HARTFORD, CT — A court hearing on Connecticut’s mandate that school children wear masks was unexpectedly postponed Wednesday morning as lawyers challenging the requirement said they were attempting to negotiate a resolution with the state.
Craig Fishbein, a Republican state representative and lawyer for a group of parents claiming that masks are harmful to children, said the hearing was put on hold so they could try to negotiate an agreement with the state that would be acceptable to the parents.
“We’re actively negotiating with them as we speak,” he said Wednesday morning. “That’s what usually happens in lawsuits. People try and talk and resolve their disputes and come to some sort of stipulation or agreement.”
The postponement is the latest development in an ongoing lawsuit in which a group of parents opposed to Connecticut’s school mask mandate are asking a Superior Court judge to issue an emergency order to halt the requirement. The group, represented by Fishbein and Doug Dubitsky, another Republican state representative, claim that masks are ineffective in controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus and are dangerous to children.
Fishbein declined to say what sort of agreement may be acceptable to the parents short of an injunction stopping the mandate.
The Wednesday morning delay tables an expected all-day hearing in which both the group and the state had prepared to offer expert testimony to back up their claims. A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said the state was “fully ready to proceed with a hearing.”
“We agreed to delay the hearing to see if we could resolve our differences without the need for further court intervention,” she said in an email.
The plaintiffs have since late September been unsuccessfully attempting to convince Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher to accept testimony from a series of out-of-state doctors prepared to argue against the mask requirement. The judge has so far rejected their proposed experts as unqualified. Last week, he gave them one more chance to identify suitable witnesses. They had been expected to offer two additional witnesses Wednesday.
Meanwhile, lawyers for the state disclosed three Connecticut witnesses Tuesday who they hoped the judge would permit to argue in favor of the mask requirement. They included Dr. Lynn E. Sosa, deputy state epidemiologist for the Department of Public Health.
Sosa was expected to speak to the “importance of Connecticut public school students and educators wearing facial coverings in school to protect the health and safety of the school community during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the risks to public health associated with permitting Connecticut public school students to attend school without wearing face masks or other protective coverings,” according to the state’s disclosure.
The state was also planning to call New Britain-based pediatrician Dr. Robert W. Dudley who would address his observations of students wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as “the alleged risk that Connecticut public school students will sustain physical, mental, and/or psychological harm from wearing a face mask or other coverings.”
The state also disclosed Public Health Department epidemiologist Thomas St. Louis.
On Friday, the plaintiffs identified Dr. Mark McDonald, a child psychiatrist from California, and Dr. Knut Wittkowski, a New York epidemiologist with a Ph.D in computer science, as their expected witnesses. Wittkowski has publicly opposed social distancing in favor of hastening herd immunity to the coronavirus.
Dubitsky complained last week that politics have impacted the plaintiffs’ search for suitable expert witnesses in the case.
“We’re having problems because of political reasons. There has become, in the medical field, a sort of mob mentality now and a lot of doctors who would normally, certainly agree to testify are being scared off. We are having to work through those issues,” Dubitsky said.
The immediate future of the case was unclear Wednesday morning. Fishbein said he hoped to report back to the court regarding future scheduling sometime Wednesday.