HARTFORD, CT — A Connecticut Superior Court judge declined Monday to issue an emergency order halting a requirement that school children wear masks in schools to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher ruled that lawyers for a group of parents claiming that masks are harmful to children failed to show that the requirement created an emergency representing an imminent threat to all school children.
“Nothing the Connecticut government has done about school mask wearing has been shown as irrational and dangerous rather than, like all human action, in some ways imperfect. Indeed, it aligns with ordinary expectations,” Moukawsher wrote in his 11-page ruling.
“There is no emergency danger to children from wearing masks in schools. Indeed, there is very little evidence of harm at all and a wide ranging medical consensus that it is safe.”
With the motion for an emergency injunction denied, the court will now likely take up the state’s motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to exhaust administrative remedies before suing the State Department of Education. In a prior ruling, the judge indicated that he believes that state guidance on the mask mandate provides some remedies for parents and that some of the complaints in the lawsuit were more appropriately directed at local school officials.
The plaintiffs, represented by Republican State Reps. Doug Dubitsky and Craig Fishbein, have argued that masks have led to a number of ailments in Connecticut students.
“They’re suffering from things like asthma, infections, panic attacks, depression, sleeplessness and behavioral changes,” Dubitsky said during his closing argument Friday.
Lawyers for the state Education Department have maintained that the requirement helps to protect teachers and students from the virus and has been written with enough flexibility that kids who need exemptions are permitted to attend school without masks. Last week, they provided statistics suggesting school boards approve far more exemptions requests than they deny.
In his ruling, Moukawsher took care to acknowledge that masks are not perfect.
“No witness has claimed that the existing statewide solution of mask wearing is without drawbacks. Voices are muffled. Faces are hidden. Breathing is less free. Fear may be instilled in some,” he said, noting that the impact on some children may be more serious than for others. The exemptions included in the state’s guidelines attempt to address those cases, he said.
Without a clear emergency, how the state chooses to protect school children from the virus is a matter for the other two branches of government, the judge wrote. Those branches have deemed the “mostly minimal burdens” of masks to be outweighed by a pandemic that has already killed more than 213,000 Americans, he said.
“After all, the crisis isn’t small. In World War II, 291,000 Americans were killed in four-years of battle. Covid-19 has killed 213,000 Americans in less than one year of peacetime. One would think some level of action from the government—even something imperfect—might be expected,” Moukawsher wrote.
Without an emergency motion before the court, the judge said he saw no reason to rule immediately on the plaintiffs’ claim that the Education Department exceeded its authority when it issued the mask requirement. The lawsuit will now work its way through the court system at a more traditional pace.