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Group sues Alpena Public Schools over masks policy

News File Photo Students play while waiting for a bus outside Besser Elementary School in Alpena in this News file photo.

ALPENA — A group calling itself Freedom to Breathe has sued Alpena Public Schools, challenging the school district’s Sept. 21 order that students must wear facemasks to school.

The group asked Alpena County’s 26th Circuit Court to grant a temporary restraining order preventing the school district from enforcing mask mandates, which the school board instituted after a spate of coronavirus infections and quarantines forced officials to temporarily send kids home to learn online.

Judge Ed Black on Tuesday denied the temporary restraining order requested by Freedom to Breathe.

Such orders require evidence of a “real and imminent danger of irreparable injury” if not granted, Black said in his denial.

At an Oct. 29 hearing, Black will consider the group’s request to stop schools from enforcing mask policies while the matter goes through court. APS has until Wednesday to file a response to the group’s request.

Freedom to Breathe, an “unincorporated association of parents and school-aged children in Alpena,” according to court documents, claims APS officials lack authority to mandate facemasks and have violated the Michigan Health Code with the requirement.

Court documents did not name any individual involved in the group. The group’s attorney, David Delaney, of Gaylord, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has left it up to local health departments and school districts to decide whether or not to mandate masks or other coronavirus protocols.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Northeast Michigan public health agencies, and numerous research ers call face masks and vaccination the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus.

APS Superintendent David Rabbideau told The News he does not know what families might make up the group named in the lawsuit, which the school district turned over to its attorney to handle in court.

According to the lawsuit, state statutes do not authorize public schools to adopt a mask mandate policy, suspend students because of that policy, or require students to quarantine in the case of a confirmed COVID-19 case.

APS officials have suspended several students for refusing to wear masks after repeated warnings, Rabbideau confirmed.

Check out the interactive graphic below. Story continues below the graphic.

APS Masks Lawsuit emergency motion for temporary restraining order by Julie Riddle on Scribd

Suspensions constitute enforcement of violations of health department policy, and such enforcement should be left to a prosecutor, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says facemask mandates violate a portion of the state school code that prohibits schools from using “any restraint that negatively impacts breathing,” including in an emergency.

In place of a mask mandate, schools could issue written warnings to students they consider a health threat or report alleged health violations to the local health department, the lawsuit suggests.

The day after the school instituted its mask regulation, 19 students across the district came to school maskless. The next day, three students would not wear masks, and schools have had no issues with students fighting the rule since then, Rabbideau said.

With the exception of one family who withdrew from the school district after contesting the mask mandate, all students who resisted mask-wearing have returned to classrooms, Rabbideau said.

Despite some parents’ threats to pull their kids from the district over the mandate and some parents taking formal steps to form a homeschooling cooperative, enrollment at APS actually increased this fall, according to the official count earlier this month.

APS officials have not said when they’ll consider COVID-19 a low enough risk to remove the mask mandate. That decision will be made in consultation with health officials, Rabbideau said.

No APS classrooms have had to quarantine since the mask mandate, he said.

In the past week, 239 Northeast Michigan residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and two have died after contracting the illness, according to health officials.

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