Fulton County parents sue school district over mask mandate

Protesters opposed to Fulton County Schools' mask requirement hold up signs outside of the board's Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, meeting. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC FILE PHOTO

Credit: Vanessa McCray

Credit: Vanessa McCray

Protesters opposed to Fulton County Schools' mask requirement hold up signs outside of the board's Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, meeting. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC FILE PHOTO

Eleven families are suing Fulton County Schools in an attempt to overturn the district’s mask mandate.

Atlanta attorney Ray S. Smith III said the complaint was filed late Friday in Superior Court of Fulton County. It contends the district lacks the authority to require masks and says the mandate “has caused both physical and mental health issues across all ages,” according to a copy Smith provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The district acknowledged the lawsuit in a statement issued Monday: “While we cannot comment on the pending litigation regarding the current mask policy, the district maintains its commitment to safety, while providing high quality, uninterrupted face-to-face instruction.”

The lawsuit is the third to be filed in recent months against a metro Atlanta school system over mask requirements.

Gwinnett County parents opposed to that district’s mask rules sued a few weeks ago. Last spring, Cobb County families filed a lawsuit but then dropped the case after their district decided to no longer require face coverings.

Fulton County Schools, the state’s fourth-largest district, requires masks in schools and on buses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends universal mask-wearing in schools.

The families represented by Smith are asking the court to stop the district from enforcing the mandate and declare it void.

The complaint states: “Rather than respecting each parent’s right to choose what is best for their child’s health, the school board and teachers are overstepping beyond their roles as administrators and educators.”

Smith declined to comment.

Fulton’s decision to require masks made some parents more confident about sending their children to school, but upset others. Opponents protested outside schools and during at least one board meeting.

An online fundraising campaign organized by Christy McCranie, identified in the lawsuit as one of the plaintiffs, has raised more than $28,000 of a $40,000 goal to assist with the legal battle. McCranie could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit describes her as the parent of two Fulton students. Wearing masks in school “has made it exponentially more difficult for them to hear, understand, focus, learn and retain information,” according to the complaint.

Other parents who joined the suit said it’s challenging for their children to wear masks because they use inhalers, have learning disabilities or struggle to breathe because of medical conditions.

The suit also states that children have “developed sore throats and chronic headaches” because of daily, long-term mask use.

The district planned to make masks optional this year. Then, the week before classes began, officials said masks must be worn in schools located in areas with high COVID-19 case counts. A few days after school started Aug. 9, all campuses met the district’s mask-mandate threshold.

District officials attempted to appease those opposed to mask rules by offering to open a mask-optional campus for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. But administrators ultimately dropped that plan after too few families expressed interest in enrolling.

The lawsuit argues parents didn’t have enough time or information to consider that option.

As of Monday afternoon, the filing had yet to appear in online court records.

The Fulton district reported 334 positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff for the week ending Sept. 16. The district has documented more than 3,200 cases since the start of the school year.