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Judge denies mom's request that 10-year-old go maskless in school

The 10-year-old whose mother wants her to go

The 10-year-old whose mother wants her to go maskless in school attends the John Street School in Franklin Square. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A federal judge has denied a Franklin Square mother’s request that her 10-year-old daughter be allowed in school without a mask because she suffers from severe asthma and anxiety.

The mother, identified in the court papers as "Jane Doe," had filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District in September, alleging the state's school mask mandate was unconstitutional and violated the child’s due process rights.

In a decision issued Tuesday, Brooklyn federal Judge Frederic Block denied the claim, saying the "Court concludes that the Mask Mandate does not impinge upon any fundamental right."

Court papers also stated that the district and the girl’s mother are "engaging in settlement negotiations." "The School District is to be complimented for its willingness to give it another go in Sarah’s case," the ruling read.

Neither the child’s Ithaca-based lawyer nor the school district’s attorney could be immediately reached for comment. Franklin Square school officials declined to comment.

According to the court documents, the child’s pediatrician certified that it was unsafe for her to wear a mask all day at school and wrote a medical exemption, which the district turned down. The child attends John Street School.

The suit identified the child only as "Sarah Doe" and listed her mother as "Jane Doe." The suit named the Franklin Square school district and state Health Commissioner Howard A. Zucker.

On Aug. 24, the day Kathy Hochul was sworn in as governor, she ordered a mask mandate for students, staff and visitors at all K-12 schools. Hochul said the mandate was necessary to help control the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.

Three days later, the state Department of Health mandated universal masking inside school buildings.

According to the lawsuit, the child has had severe respiratory challenges since birth and been treated at emergency rooms after severe asthma attacks. She is also prone to anxiety, exacerbated by her struggles to breathe when wearing a mask, the suit states.

The court papers also stated that the student faced numerous challenges last year as a fifth-grader when she was masked in school. She had to start carrying her asthma pump to school and needed to use it more frequently as her breathing became increasingly difficult because of mask use, according to the court documents.

Guidance issued to districts from the state health department said: "People with medical or developmental conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask may be exempted from mask requirements, as documented by a medical provider."

In his ruling, Block wrote that the mask mandate is a matter of public health. "That is, the state must weigh the health concerns of an individual against the threat to the health of everyone else present in the classroom or other public place. A personal physician is ill-equipped to balance those competing concerns," the ruling read.

Regarding the parent's argument that the state has no right to intervene in her wish to follow the advice of her child's pediatrician, Block wrote "no one is forcing plaintiff to send her child to public school or to live in New York State, but once she made those decisions, she must comply with their rules. Her authority stops, so to speak, at the schoolhouse door."

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