Attorneys, parents say they will drop lawsuit over mask mandate in Cobb Schools

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May 27—Attorneys for a group of parents suing the Cobb County School District over its mask mandate for students say they are dropping the case for now.

Marietta attorney Mitch Skandalakis, an attorney on the team representing six Cobb parents, told the MDJ they had decided to drop the case because they're encouraged by a reduction in mask mandates and want to wait to see what happens at the start of next school year.

"We don't want to be perceived as wasting the court's time when we believe the inevitability is, come fall, it should be all over with," he said.

Skandalakis said the suit will be dismissed "without prejudice," which means, depending on the circumstances going forward, the suit could return.

While mask mandates for students remained through the end of the school year, Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale announced on May 13 fully vaccinated individuals would no longer be required to wear masks on school property. That announcement followed updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said fully vaccinated Americans could ditch masks in most settings.

"Fully vaccinated" means a person is at least two weeks past their second shot in a two-dose series — that's a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine — or two weeks past the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the CDC.

Ragsdale also said in that announcement that, amid an encouraging downward trend in virus case numbers and an upward trend in vaccination numbers the district would "fully expect" masks to be optional for the 2021-22 school year.

Skandalakis said he and the others on the legal team will be keeping an eye out for more "shenanigans," referring to revived mask mandates, when students return to class in the fall.

"Everybody's moving away from these mask mandates now," he said. "I think we need to wait and see what happens in the fall, and if they continue to make these children wear these masks, we'll bring it back."

Skandalakis said the next job is to find out why the district is not allowing the public in the board room at 514 Glover St. During the pandemic, members of the public have only been allowed inside one at a time to make comments during the public comment portion of the meeting.

"We're concerned about that as well," he said.

Throughout the lawsuit, the Cobb County School District pointed to the fact that it made decisions based on the recommendation of local, state and federal health officials.

In response to the news of the lawsuit being dropped, the district provided the MDJ with an emailed statement:

"When this lawsuit began, we said we looked forward to the facts of this case being argued in court, not social or traditional media. As the case being dropped shows, our comments from one year ago are as true as they are today."

The decision to drop the suit comes about three weeks after U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. denied the parents' request to temporarily halt the district's mask mandate, COVID-19 contact tracing policy and quarantine requirements.

The parents and their attorneys have maintained throughout court proceedings they have provided "direct evidence through affidavits" that the plaintiffs' children were being harmed "physically and mentally by the wearing of these masks" and that the district has not provided adequate evidence to prove otherwise or to prove masks are an effective means of preventing virus spread.

It also comes amid news that Gov. Brian Kemp plans to sign an executive order restricting Georgia schools from mandating masks. The order would restrict public schools in the state from requiring any students, teachers or staff members to wear masks.

Speaking to MDJ partner Fox 5 on Wednesday night, the Republican governor said that he thinks "the time for mandates is over."

"We continue to pull back our restrictions now — we have very few — but one of those things as we go into the summer and look at schools to be back in the fall, we're not going to have a mask mandate for our kids. Our teachers have had the ability to get vaccinated," Kemp told the station.

The order does not ban use of masks altogether. Those who still want to send their children to school in masks or wear them inside schools are permitted to do so.

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.