Coloradans fight school special needs mask mandate with class-action lawsuit

A Douglas County parent of a child with disabilities vows to fight the end of the mandatory mask mandate when it goes into effect in January.

Douglas County parents-rights advocate Faith Gehring is pushing back against what she calls a “done deal” when Colorado Public Schools implement a voluntary mask mandate for all high school students in January.

Gehring has written a letter to ASCD superintendent Tom Boasberg stating her intent to “join any and all efforts which will prevent the school districts’ mandatory mask mandate from being in place.” She calls it “a tired tired tired issue.”

“I won’t leave my kid out in the cold with nothing when it comes to autism education,” said Gehring, whose son is not expected to wear the required masks until his ninth grade year. “I will 100% be suing,” she vowed.

The 2015 law called on private and public schools to start using masks that allow small droplets of air to be inhaled. Schools were given a year to start doing so. Parents and guardians were given another year to decide on whether their kids would be required to wear the protective masks while participating in physical education activities.

The legislation comes after a statewide study found brain bleeds in students who wore the masks in gym class. That study also found symptoms of bronchitis were a greater possibility when there was a lack of ventilation.

However, critics of the law wonder what level of protection is required to protect a child who has autism.

“How are you going to raise a child who’s not going to breathe during a physical education class?” said Robynne Gilmore, a parent who fears her 7-year-old son with autism will be harmed by the requirements.

“It will be really difficult, if not impossible, for that child to learn how to participate in physical education,” said Gilmore, who has studied the masks’ potential risks.

But the makers of the masks claim they offer the same respiratory benefits as public air masks.

“A mask is a mask, it’s not something you put on your head,” said Philip Bailey of Consumer Healthcare Products of America, the maker of the clear Contact Anti-Pollution, to which Gehring is referring. “It’s not causing any harm if you breathe it in.”

However, parents like Gehring say her real concern is whether or not her kid will still be able to breathe when the school day is over.

The various manufacturers of masks under the mandatory federal Nomenclature of 1st Advantage, 1st Advantage Children’s and 1st Advantage Anti-Hazards assured Fox31 of their products are not designed to protect against fire, but instead they offer materials designed to protect from allergens, dust and chemicals that can irritate the eyes and nose.

However, David Seaforth, whose teenage son has autism, says safety concerns in school should not outweigh an important learning function.

“The mask situation is not a big deal,” said Seaforth. “Some of the kids are too young to worry about. Some of the other kids have a hard time not worrying so much.”

In the letter, Gehring is emphatic that she will not back down on any of her concerns about the mask law’s implementation.

“It is wrong to require our kids to wear a mask just to learn basic health skills and to protect themselves from inhalable irritants,” she wrote.

Gehring’s attorney, Seth Day, said he will be checking with the federal court system to see what options, if any, are available in the lawsuit over the mandate.

“I have no intentions of backing down,” said Gehring. “I will not allow my kid to be pushed out to the side when it comes to participation in phys-ed.”

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