A facemask, pencil and notebook
(CTNewsJunkie File Photo)

A group opposed to a state mandate that school children wear masks in Connecticut classrooms has appealed their case to the state Supreme Court and in a brief filed last week, renewed claims that masks are ineffective and dangerous for children. 

Last year, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher upheld the state’s requirement that students and staff in schools wear masks to mitigate spread of COVID-19. However, lawyers for the CT Freedom Alliance and a group of Connecticut parents appealed the decision and last week filed a brief arguing that Moukawsher had erred when he ruled in favor of Gov. Ned Lamont and the state Education Department.

In their initial lawsuit, the group had argued that masks posed an imminent danger to the health of children. Moukawsher quickly dispensed with the claim and the case narrowed into a constitutional question of whether the legislature had abdicated its authority to Lamont. Following legislative action to ensure greater oversight of the executive branch, the judge ruled that it had not. 

However, in their appeal brief, the group continued to dispute the constitutionality of the mandate and resurrected its claims that masks were ineffective and dangerous for kids. 

“When assessed through a factual, evidence-based analysis rather than hysteria and fear-based lens, the overwhelming weight of scientific literature to date establishes that facemasks do not prevent the spread of COVID-19 by, to, or from, children, but increase the risk that they will contract it,” lawyers Norm Pattis and Cameron Atkinson wrote. 

In response, Assistant Attorney General Timothy Holzman wrote that there was no merit to the plaintiffs’ “anti-mask theories.” He said the court should not second guess the Education Department’s decision to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and other public health institutions rather than the group’s claims. 

“This claim is nothing more than attempt to impose, by judicial fiat, a contrarian view of the science behind the use of facemasks as a means of controlling the spread of disease,” Holzman wrote. 

The developments in the case come as the highly-contagious omicron variant fuels a surge in COVID cases across the state. The state has posted an average infection rate of around 23% over the last week and on Monday, there were 1,889 patients hospitalized with the virus. 

Since returning from holiday breaks, many Connecticut school districts have struggled to remain open amidst staff shortages caused by the rising number of cases. Most recently, Waterbury Public Schools closed Monday due to inadequate staffing. The spread has caused a group of teachers unions to call for stronger testing procedures and greater availability of N95 masks. 

Although the governor has resisted calls by some residents to reinstitute a statewide mask mandate, some municipalities have enacted their own requirements. Meanwhile, public health officials, the CDC and most doctors continue to support students wearing masks to mitigate spread of the disease. 

During a press call Monday, Dr. Ulysses Wu, Hartford HealthCare’s chief epidemiologist, was asked if in-person learning could continue to be safely conducted in areas of the state where vaccine uptake had been low. Wu said it could, if students and staff observed other mitigation strategies like social distancing and masking. 

“For lack of a better term, masking works,” Wu said. “It does. Wearing a mask as a chin guard doesn’t work, wearing a mask as a helmet does not work. But wearing a mask, properly-fitted, over your nose and your mouth not only protects people against you but it also protects people for you.”

In their brief to the Supreme Court, the lawyers for the CT Freedom Alliance and opposed parents accused doctors who supported mask protocols of pandering.

“In times of uncertain danger, however, politicians and doctors who become politicians in the name of leading a response to public health crisis must pander to mass hysteria to retain their credibility,” they wrote. “Mask mandates are just that – a shameless form of pandering. They calm people’s irrational fears despite posing severe harm to users and being utterly useless.”