The Connecticut Supreme Court will hear arguments next week on whether a lawsuit challenging an order that required students to wear masks in schools during the pandemic was still necessary more than six months after the order’s expiration.
Following months of litigation, a Superior Court judge last year upheld a state requirement that students and staff in Connecticut schools wear masks to mitigate spread of COVID-19. Like other pandemic-related restrictions, the mask mandate has since expired, having sunset at the end of February.
However, lawyers for the CT Freedom Alliance and a group of parents opposed to the mask requirement appealed the judge’s decision to the state Supreme Court and will argue next Wednesday that their lawsuit still has merit, in part due to the potential for another such requirement in the future.
“The spectre of repetition looms large as it always has during the COVID-19 pandemic,” lawyers Norman Pattis and Cameron Atkinson wrote in court documents earlier this year. “No one needs to strain their imagination that similar circumstances can, and will, likely arise in Connecticut’s immediate future as well as its long-term future as it responds to future worldwide pandemics with prolonged durations.”
Lawyers with the attorney general’s office, meanwhile, have argued that the complaint was no longer relevant because the mask order had expired and Gov. Ned Lamont indicated that Connecticut had moved on to a new, less restrictive phase of pandemic management.
“This all indicates that the state is moving away from mask and other restrictions as we reach the next stage of the pandemic,” Assistant Attorney General Timothy Holzman wrote in March. “There is no reason to suspect the [state Department of Education] will suddenly reverse course and reimpose school mask mandates.”
In an order issued Sunday, the Supreme Court asked both sides to address next week’s oral arguments to whether any practical relief could be afforded to the complainants, given that the rule they opposed was no longer in effect.
The arguments and objectives of the lawsuit have changed several times since it first filed in August of 2020. The group initially sought an emergency injunction to stop the mask requirement, arguing that masks posed a physical and psychological threat to school children.
When Judge Thomas Moukawsher dismissed that claim, the plaintiffs shifted their approach and argued instead that Lamont had effectively usurped the legislature’s authority by issuing the order under pandemic-related emergency powers.
However, after the legislature amended the state’s emergency powers statutes and the state Supreme Court upheld Lamont’s COVID restrictions in a related case, Moukawsher ruled in favor of the state.
“[T]he Constitution requires nothing more of this court than to grant the defendants a full and final summary judgment — not merely because the lawsuit is moot — but because the actions of the executive have been ratified as correct by both of the other co-equal branches of government,” Moukawsher wrote.
Oral arguments in the case are scheduled to begin Wednesday at 10 a.m. before the Supreme Court.