Palo Alto schools sued over mask rules

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This article was published on the Daily Post by Emily Mibach on July 12, 2021.

The father of a child with disabilities is suing the Palo Alto Unified School District because his son wasn’t allowed to go mask-less at summer school, and could be held back.

The child is about to be a senior and is currently enrolled in summer school that began on July 6.

But he cannot wear a face mask safely and has a speech/communication disability, and wearing a mask makes his disability more pronounced, according to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday (July 7) in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

The boy’s attorney is also his father, so to provide confidentiality to the child, the Post will not be naming his attorney in this case.

The boy’s father contends in the lawsuit that due to California Department of Public Health guidelines, his son does not need to wear a mask to school and the district has been unwilling to work through the issue.

However, schools Superintendent Don Austin points out that the district has been working with families for the past year and a half to make sure everyone is safe and has a process for students who can’t wear a mask.

The issue started on June 28, when the student asked summer school Principal Courtney Carlomango if he could take classes virtually, either through the district or another online course outside the district. Carlomango told the student no, so the student’s father informed Carlomango that they would “invoke a face mask exemption” so the student could attend summer school, according to the lawsuit.

A mask exemption

Carlomango reportedly told the parent that mask exemptions are made by the district on a case-by-case basis. For example, a mask exemption could be approved if the child has such a requirement in an up-to-date IEP (individualized education program) or in his health records on file with the district.

Additionally, the district’s health department may need to confirm that the student does not need a mask, according to Carlomango’s email cited in the lawsuit.

Carlomango invited the student and his father to request an assessment of whether the child needs a mask at school.

The student’s father began discussing the matter with Mike Jacobs, the district’s safety manager. After discussing the matter, Jacobs told the student’s father on July 3 that the mask exemption request was denied, “citing a lack of evidence on file for a medical-related condition and noting that his IEP ended in 2018.”

Jacobs invited the boy’s father to discuss the matter with the district’s director of Secondary Special Education, Cynthia Loleng-Perez.

The lawsuit does not mention any further conversations with the district.

Despite having his request denied by the district, the boy went to the first day of summer school, July 6, without a mask. He was not allowed to enter the classroom by his teacher and was told to go to the office.

The student’s father also went to the office and spoke with Carlomango, who allegedly denied the parent’s request to have the student provided class notes and audio recordings if he could not attend class.

Since summer school is only 2½ weeks, students are only allowed to miss three days of school before being dropped from the program.

The lawsuit anticipates that if the student missed all of last week because of this mask waiver mandate, he will be barred from summer school and may be held back.

“(Student) should not be held back in school because of this matter. No student should be required to seek judicial intervention to attend class. That is an entirely unrealistic burden to place on a student,” the lawsuit says.

Following the rules

While the boy’s father said the district refuses to work through the issue, Superintendent Don Austin said the parent did not work with the district and provide the needed documents needed for a mask waiver.

“We understand some object to masking and have voiced their feelings previously. That does not change our obligation to follow protocols. We have students who have attended without masks. They went through the process, worked with staff, and have thrived. We were not afforded the same opportunity in this case,” Austin said in an email to the Post.