Gwinnett judge: School officials can require students to wear masks

A group of parents asked a judge to toss Gwinnett County schools’ mask mandate. AJC file photo

A group of parents asked a judge to toss Gwinnett County schools’ mask mandate. AJC file photo

A Gwinnett County Superior Court judge recently ruled against parents who sued to strike down the face mask mandate in Gwinnett County Public Schools.

As of Tuesday, the school district, Georgia’s largest, maintains a mask requirement in schools and other district facilities.

Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Deborah R. Fluker ruled Oct. 29 that the school district had sovereign immunity from the parents’ lawsuit. The Georgia Constitution gives county-wide school districts sovereign immunity from legal claims and injunctions absent a waiver, Fluker’s order said.

Sloan Roach, a Gwinnett schools spokeswoman, said in a statement, “The school district remains committed to defending its authority and obligation to follow public health guidance to protect our students and staff.”

Mitch Skandalakis, the attorney representing four parents who sued the school district, said he planned to file a motion for reconsideration.

“We’re going to try to pull out all stops and see this thing through,” Skandalakis said. “We think the court has made a mistake.”

Steven D. Pereira of Thompson, Sweeny, Kinsinger & Pereira in Lawrenceville represented the school district in oral arguments.

The district of 180,000 students, the nation’s 13th-largest, imposed the mask mandate at the end of July as COVID-19 cases surged and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended universal masking in schools.

Parents Justin and Meghann Verrier, Margaret Rudnick and Holly Terei sued the Gwinnett school district in August, asking for a restraining order or injunction against the mask mandate and for the court to declare it illegal. The parents said the mask requirement harms children physically and emotionally.

A Fulton County judge last month denied parents’ request to prohibit Fulton County Schools from enforcing its mask mandate. That school district made masks optional last week amid declining COVID-19 cases.

Protests over Gwinnett’s school mask mandate delayed a May school board meeting and caused last month’s meeting to end early. The National School Boards Association cited the May meeting in a letter to President Joe Biden asking for federal help addressing threats to school boards.