Gwinnett parents argue against school mask mandate in court

People protest the Gwinnett County school system's policy mandating masks be worn in district facilities and on buses. Protests were held outside the J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center in Suwanee, Georgia, on  July 30, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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People protest the Gwinnett County school system's policy mandating masks be worn in district facilities and on buses. Protests were held outside the J. Alvin Wilbanks Instructional Support Center in Suwanee, Georgia, on July 30, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

A Gwinnett County Superior Court judge will rule in about a month at the earliest on four parents’ request for an injunction to void the mask mandate in Georgia’s largest school system.

Justin and Meghann Verrier, Margaret Rudnick, and Holly Terei filed Aug. 30 in Gwinnett County Superior Court. The defendants are Gwinnett County Public Schools and Superintendent Calvin Watts.

ExploreGwinnett parents sue over school mask mandate

Terei and Justin Verrier testified Tuesday in a virtual hearing before Judge Deborah R. Fluker.

Verrier said he and his wife pulled their daughter out of Dacula Elementary School because the sight of everyone wearing masks gave the 8-year-old anxiety.

“What she was seeing every day at school reinforced the idea that there’s something floating in the air out to get her, and it was damaging her psyche,” Verrier said.

Terei tearfully said her family pulled two of their children from Cooper Elementary School because of the mask mandate. Terei said the masks hampered her fifth-grader’s social interactions and exacerbated a medical condition that gives her third-grader breathing problems.

School district lawyers and assistant principals said all the children identified in the lawsuit obtained exemptions to the mask mandate or were no longer attending Gwinnett schools.

ExploreMore stories about Gwinnett County Public Schools

Al Taylor, the school district’s associate superintendent of operations, and Jennifer Poole Ross, the district’s lead nurse, said they and other district leaders followed federal and local public health guidelines in deciding to impose the mask mandate July 27, immediately after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended universal masking in schools amid a COVID-19 case surge caused by the highly contagious delta variant.

The CDC last week released three studies showing that areas without mask policies in schools have more COVID-19 cases. The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday filed a brief opposing the Gwinnett parents’ lawsuit.

“This wasn’t some political effort on behalf of the Gwinnett County school district,” said Stephen Pereira, an attorney for the school system. “This was about taking care of kids.”

The parents’ lawyer, Mitch Skandalakis, argued that an executive order Gov. Brian Kemp issued over the summer did not give school districts the ability to issue mask mandates.

Eleven families sued Fulton County Schools earlier this month over the mask mandate there. Ray S. Smith III. an Atlanta-based attorney, is representing them.

Skandalakis also represented families who sued the Cobb County School District in the spring over a mask mandate, but dropped the suit when masks became optional.