Federal judge rejects parent ask to halt Cobb Schools mask mandate

May 6—A federal judge has denied a request from a group of Cobb Schools parents that would have paused the school district's enforcement of its mask requirement for students, COVID-19 contact tracing policy and quarantine requirements.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. denied the parents' request at a virtual hearing Wednesday, according to court documents.

The parents in the case — Caryn Sonderman, Matt Gill, Andrei Marcu, Gretchen Brocard, John Hanson and Erin White — were seeking a temporary restraining order barring the school system from continuing its enforcement of the mandate, which has been recommended by federal, state and local public health officials.

Thrash's decision does not end the case. For the case to be dropped, the Cobb School District would have to file a motion to dismiss and a decision would have to be made on that ruling.

Mitch Skandalakis, co-counsel with attorney Robert Madayag in representing the parents, told the MDJ the court simply chose to ignore their evidence and "bow down to the school system."

"Obviously we're extremely disappointed in light of the fact that the ruling apparently was made without any evidence presented by the school board that there was science behind their decision-making," Skandalakis said, adding that the school district said it was following Centers for Disease Control recommendations. "The CDC has not produced any statistical analysis when it comes to how the wearing of masks by children for eight hours a day affects them."

Skandalakis said he and the other attorneys representing the parents, on the other hand, provided "direct evidence through affidavits" that the plaintiffs' children were being harmed "physically and mentally by the wearing of these masks."

Some of those filings included examples of the effects that prolonged use of N95 and surgical masks could have on an individual's health. One study they cite found that most adult health care workers who used the masks for an hour suffered headaches, rash, acne, skin breakdown, and impaired cognition.

"Now, imagine what this is like for a child or teenager after 8 hours!" a May 3 filing states.

Another concern for the plaintiffs, Skandalakis said, was that some of those children who couldn't attend school "due to this ridiculous policy," had individualized education plans and were denied access to extra academic help.

The complaint filed on behalf of the parents also cites studies that detail the negative effects of increased screen time.

District students who do not want to wear a mask must attend virtually rather than in-person. Virtual learning is substandard, the attorneys argue; as such, the mandate has created "two separate, segregated and unequal classes of students," the complaint reads, invoking Brown v. Board of Education.

A school district spokesperson only provided the MDJ with a statement in response to the Wednesday ruling:

"While we cannot comment on ongoing litigation, we are confident the facts and law will speak for themselves."

In an April 29 filing, the district's attorneys said the parents are trying to block efforts to "protect its students and employees from the deadly virus" that has killed 3 million people worldwide and more than 19,000 in Georgia.

"Armed with a scattershot collection of articles, tweets, and online postings cherrypicked from the internet, Plaintiffs ask for an 'emergency' temporary restraining order to halt a mask mandate and contact-tracing protocols that CCSD began implementing over six months ago to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in its schools," the district's response states. "In filing this motion, Plaintiffs favor their own interests over the public's wellbeing, ignore recommendations from health experts at every level of government, and disregard months of court decisions upholding the legality of COVID-19 safety measures across the country."

In their response, the district rejected the notion its mask mandate is discriminatory, in particular the plaintiffs' comparison of the mandate to Jim Crow-era racial segregation.

"Plaintiffs' claim that Brown (v. Board of Education) prohibits CCSD from offering face-to-face and virtual instructional options to students on a race-neutral basis stretches Brown beyond recognition and ignores its importance as a landmark ruling for racial equality," the response reads.

The response also includes language from various health departments, at local, state and federal levels that show the district was acting on the recommendations of health experts.

The bottom line, according to the district's response, is that the plaintiffs' claims hinge on their personal disagreement with mask mandates and the efficacy of masks in protecting against COVID-19 transmission.

"But their non-expert opinions on this issue are irrelevant."

Skandalakis said his team is examining whether they'll appeal the judge's decision. He also said he did not know when a filing from the Cobb School District might come.

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