A Catholic elementary school in Michigan is suing the state’s health department over a mandate that masks be worn continually during the school day, calling the requirement unnecessary, and harmful to its younger students.
Resurrection School in Lansing, along with two parents of children at the school, are suing Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon and several other public officials over an Oct. 9 mandate that students wear masks at school all day, even if their desks are spaced six feet apart in the classroom.
“In accordance with the teachings of the Catholic faith, Resurrection School believes that every human has dignity and is made in God’s image and likeness. Unfortunately, a mask shields our humanity. And because God created us in His image, we are masking that image,” the lawsuit, filed Oct. 22 in the Western District Court of Michigan, reads.
“Wearing a mask conveys the message that the wearer has surrendered his or her freedom to the government...a mask has become a symbol. And because a mask has become a political symbol, the wearing of a mask is a form of symbolic speech,” the plaintiffs argued.
“Consequently, via the mask mandates, Defendants are compelling Plaintiffs to engage in a form of expression and to convey a message with which they disagree.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued nearly 200 executive orders since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Her order mandating masks in the classroom for elementary school students, announced Sept. 25, was set to go into effect Oct. 5.
The state Supreme Court invalidated all of Whitmer’s executive orders Oct. 12, but the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services subsequently revived some, including the elementary school mask mandate, as emergency epidemic orders.
Father Steven Mattson, pastor of the parish church to which the school belongs, and principal Jacob Allstot, sent a letter Oct. 27 to school parents explaining the rationale for the lawsuit.
Resurrection has taken steps to space students’ desks six feet apart in the classroom and is taking measures to disinfect common areas and install UV lights and filtration systems in each room.
The school leaders argued that data from the state shows that young children are unlikely to carry and contract the virus. Mattson and Allstot noted that Michigan has documented 5,816 cases of COVID-19 associated with a school population, only 151 of which arose from preschools and elementary schools.
Resurrection serves students aged kindergarten through eighth grade. As of Oct. 20, Mattson and Allstot wrote, approximately 98% of documented COVID-19 cases associated with a school outbreak in Michigan occurred in children aged sixth grade through college.
Mattson and Allstot related the story of an anonymous kindergartener at Resurrection, who is shy and has a speech impediment. “Wearing a facial covering exacerbates her struggles with speech,” they said.
Students have been back at Resurrection School since August, and the school has not had any cases of coronavirus among students or staff since reopening, the letter reads.
The school has clarified that they are only "contesting masks for younger children when socially distanced in their own classrooms," and not for teachers, older students, or younger students when they are in mixed groups, Fox News reported.
Under an earlier executive order by Whitmer, elementary students didn’t have to wear masks while seated in class, only during transition periods. Whitmer’s later order and the MDHHS order made it mandatory for students to wear masks at all times while learning.
According to state data, no elementary schools in Michigan have experienced an outbreak of coronavirus with more than 10 people infected.