Parents Sue Allen ISD over 'Failure' to Protect Children with COVID Safety Measures

Parents and school boards across the state have challenged Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates.
Parents and school boards across the state have challenged Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates. Wiki Commons
Allen Independent School District parents have petitioned and protested for more COVID-19 protocols throughout the district, including a mask mandate for students. But the district hasn't budged.

So now, these parents are taking their chances in court. In a federal class-action lawsuit filed late Wednesday, the parents demand the district implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19, including a temporary mask requirement for students.

These guidelines wouldn't require teachers and staff to wear masks, according to the lawsuit.

In May, Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order banning mask mandates by government entities, which included schools. But Abbott has faced a swell of defiance from many school districts around the state, including Dallas ISD, as they implement mask mandates. Other districts challenging the governor include Austin, Fort Worth and Houston.

Attorney Martin Cirkiel filed the suit on behalf of students and parents only identified as Jane and John Doe. It alleges Allen ISD and school board members violated students’ constitutional rights by not implementing enough protocols to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“This failure by the school district has caused too many children to get sick and has put them, their classmates and their families, as well as staff, at further risk,” Cirkiel & Associates said in a press release.

The lawsuit said the school board has a responsibility to assure students’ right to life and that it’s not living up to this.

“While it yet to be determined whether or not a student has a constitutional right and liberty interest in not wearing a mask at school, even if so, it does not supersede the Doe’s constitutional right to life (and by extension their health) to have those same students wear a mask at school, because of the current rampage of the COVID-19 pandemic delta variant,” the lawsuit said.

But Allen ISD officials insist the district is doing just fine.

“Due to the ongoing litigation, the school district cannot speak to the specifics regarding its response to the lawsuit at this time,” an Allen ISD spokesperson told the Observer by email. “The District, however, strongly disagrees that the students’ constitutional rights have been violated by leaving masks as an option for students and staff. Allen ISD continues to work proactively and professionally with parents who have questions or concerns about COVID-related issues.”

A majority of parents’ concerns have been resolved without the need for litigation, the district spokesperson said.

“The rapid increases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths locally and throughout the U.S. in recent weeks are alarming and require an appropriate response.” – Cooks Children's physicians

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Current safety protocols at the school district include daily disinfection of campuses and other facilities, social distancing (when feasible), providing hand sanitizer and directing people to vaccinations. The district has also provided facilities to local health officials for vaccine distribution. In Allen, 83% of people 12 and older have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The coronavirus vaccines are still unavailable to most children younger than 12 years.

But some parents say this isn’t enough.

Therissa Grefsrud, an Allen ISD parent, told NBC: “There are very clear recommendations of what we should be doing to keep our kids safe and communities safe. You have a room that is plenty big and few enough kids to do that and they aren’t doing it.” Grefsrud is a board-certified infection prevention nurse with two kids under 12 attending schools in Allen ISD.

Parents have also called for better contact tracing and a virtual learning option, but say the district hasn’t listened to them.

“They shut us down when people try to talk in the board meetings,” Christina Cabral, another Allen ISD parent, told NBC. “[Parents] are just getting messages back saying well, ‘We know you have other options. You can leave Allen ISD if you want.’ That’s what parents are getting, and these are our schools.”

Cabral said she has a special needs son with health conditions that could complicate COVID-19 symptoms if he contracts the virus.

Attached to the lawsuit was a letter from about 200 Cooks Children’s Health Care System physicians to the leadership at North Texas Regional Schools urging districts to implement more COVID-19 safety protocols.

“The rapid increases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths locally and throughout the U.S. in recent weeks are alarming and require an appropriate response,” the physicians wrote. “Indeed, we are seeing rising COVID-19 cases in our practices.”

The physicians also strongly encouraged universal masking for students and staff in accordance with CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.

As of Thursday, Allen ISD had recorded 197 cases of coronavirus among students, and at least 24 staff members were considered active cases. However, the district is only counting lab-based confirmed cases. It is still not reporting home-based self-test results.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn