In lawsuit, father says Winslow school mask mandate violates his rights

·2 min read

Aug. 29—The father of a 12-year-old girl within the Winslow school system is suing over the decision to mandate students wear face coverings.

Scott Fortuna, who lives in Penobscot County and whose daughter attends Winslow Junior High School, filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Bangor, where he is seeking an injunction against the policy, damages, attorney fees and punitive damages.

The lawsuit names the town of Winslow, the Winslow school board, Winslow public schools and Superintendent Peter Thiboutet as defendants.

Face masks have been a flashpoint in pandemic politics since the earliest weeks of the government response to the virus.

Mask mandates were relaxed earlier this summer as infections plummeted amid a major drive to vaccinate the population against COVID-19. But in recent weeks, infections have surged as the delta variant has spread through the large unvaccinated population, prompting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend mask wearing in those counties where case counts are severe.

Currently, masks are recommended in 15 of Maine's counties.

That opposition against masks has renewed recently as school boards across the state have debated mandating their use ahead of the start of fall classes. School districts from Fort Kent, to Bangor, to Ellsworth, to Belfast have mandated mask use, while other districts, including in Dexter, have opted to make their use optional.

In the lawsuit, Fortuna said that the mask mandate violates his rights under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution "to make decisions concerning the medical care of his child."

He likens masks to "medical devices" and as such requires the consent of parents before children can be made to wear them in the schools.

Additionally, the lawsuit accuses the superintendent of "aggrandizing" the risk COVID-19 presents to children, and it suggested other measures, such as handwashing, physical distancing of three feet and voluntary vaccination, could be more effective at minimizing risk.

"Moreover, even if the government had a legitimate interest in preventing coughs, sneezes and runny noses, the subject policy is not remotely narrowly tailored to achieve this end because it has no end date, no exceptions and may be accomplished by other means. By way of example, the policy could require masks when children are walking to and from classes but not while they are seated at their desks three feet apart," the lawsuit said.

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