This week, parents sue schools over mask mandates and a college president dies of COVID-19

This week, parents sue schools over mask mandates and a college president dies of COVID-19


The University of Arizona ordered its students to shelter in place in an effort to control COVID-19 infections. (Getty Images)
The University of Arizona ordered its students to shelter in place in an effort to control COVID-19 infections. (Getty Images)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Ohio passes bill to protect schools from COVID-19 lawsuits as parents sue the state over mask mandates

On Monday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law that temporarily gives schools (and health care workers) immunity against lawsuits “arising from exposure, transmission, or contraction of COVID-19, or any mutation of the virus, as long as they were not showing reckless, intentional, or willful misconduct.”

The bill passed on the heels of a Sept. 10 lawsuit filed by Ohio families claiming that mask mandates violate their religious and parental values. The lawsuit, filed in Putnam County Common Pleas Court, objects to Ohio Department of Health interim health director Lance Himes’s Aug. 13 school mask mandate.

Plaintiff Lee Strang, a law professor at the University of Toledo, tells Yahoo Life that masks interfere with educational classes such as phonics (which emphasizes mouth movement). Additionally, he says, Himes’s order is unconstitutional because it bypassed steps of the legislative process and makes arbitrary religious exemptions. “It puts school officials in the role of ecclesiastical courts,” says Strang.

Representatives from the Ohio Department of Health and Governor DeWine’s office declined to comment when contacted by Yahoo Life.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, a parent organization called Recall Williamson filed a Sept. 11 lawsuit against Williamson County Schools and its superintendent, Jason Golden, for issuing mask mandates without an order from the state’s general assembly and board of education. Recall Williamson declined to comment to Yahoo Life and the school district did not respond to interview requests. However, the Rumor Mill section of the district website states that face masks are recommended to reduce the number of infections at school.

A college president dies of COVID-19

On Sunday, North Georgia Technical College in Clarkesville, Ga., announced that its president Mark Ivester died of COVID-19. “With incredibly heavy hearts, we are so sad to say that Dr. Mark Ivester passed away last night around midnight after losing his battle to Covid-19,” read the Facebook post. “We are all devastated and will miss him terribly.” Ivester’s obituary said the 57-year-old educator battled the virus for a month.

Gov. Brian Kemp expressed his sympathy for Ivester’s loved ones on Twitter. “We ask God to give them all comfort in this difficult time,” he wrote.

The University of Arizona urges students to shelter in place as a “last-ditch effort” to stop COVID-19 infections

This week, the University of Arizona “strongly urged” students to shelter in place from Sept. 14 to Sept. 27 except for essential in-person classes or activities such as getting groceries, medical treatment or COVID-19 testing. As of Thursday, the school, which offers four different in-person and online learning options had 1,828 COVID-19 cases since Aug. 4, when students began moving into its dorms, according to its dashboard.

“‘Sheltering in place’ is seeking safety within the building one already occupies, rather than evacuating the area or seeking a community emergency shelter,” a university spokesperson tells Yahoo Life. “Basically, it is us asking students to stay in the residence as opposed to going home to their permanent residences where they could potentially spread COVID-19 to others.” (That advice aligns with what Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recommended during a Sept. 2 “Today” show interview)

Ahead of Labor Day, university president Robert Robbins addressed community members that disrespect mask and social distance guidelines. “If you are in this group, I implore you to change your behaviors,” he wrote in a school letter. “This is not a game.”

In a Monday press conference, he added, “This is a last-ditch effort to ask you to follow the rules before we have to make some really drastic changes to how we’re dealing with this blatant disregard for public health measures.”

The health department ordered 23 fraternities and sororities at Michigan State University to quarantine

On Monday, the Ingham County Health Department in Lansing, Mich., ordered 30 local residences, including 23 fraternity and sorority houses near Michigan State University, to quarantine for a two-week period. The order had been upgraded from a Sept. 12 notice that “strongly” recommended that all MSU students quarantine as COVID-19 cases on campus continued to rise.

“I do not take this lightly, but there is an outbreak centered on Michigan State University and it is quickly becoming a crisis,” said health officer Linda Vail. “The surge in cases we have seen over the past few weeks is alarming. I am disheartened to add that this outbreak is being fueled in part by a lack of cooperation and compliance from some MSU students, many residing in the properties now under mandatory quarantine. We must contain COVID-19 cases; however, within the MSU community we have been unable to do so with comprehensive contact tracing, so other means of disease containment are necessary.”

The announcement cited an MSU community percent positivity of up to 15.4 percent since Sept. 5. “More than half of all new cases countywide reside in the city of East Lansing, and the majority of all new cases are students of Michigan State University,” read the order.

A Michigan State University spokesperson tells Yahoo Life that Greek life is continuing, although the school is teaching online. “The university has targeted communications to the fraternities and sororities about behavior expectations,” said the representative. “We are currently processing around 25 interim student suspensions related to those who have violated our MSU Community Compact and/or local public health orders.”

The school, which began classes virtually on Sept. 2, had 161 positive cases during the week of Sept. 7, according to MSU’s testing report. A university spokesperson tells Yahoo Life that a large majority of positive cases reported last week were due to “micro gatherings” held off-campus and without masks, which defy an East Lansing order that limits gatherings to 25 people or less.

Massachusetts officials say parents knowingly sent COVID-positive child to school, causing 30 students to quarantine

An Attleboro High School student who tested positive for COVID-19 attended the first day of in-person classes on Monday, causing 30 classmates to quarantine. “We were not notified until today of the test result, so we were unable to prevent the resulting exposure. This unacceptable outcome was caused by delays in the reporting timeline, not a breakdown in our safety protocols,” read a district announcement sent to Yahoo Life by David Swayer, superintendent of Attleboro Public Schools in Attleboro, Mass.

Students within the district began classes on Sept. 14 and are divided into two cohorts that alternate attending school on campus and online.

“I can’t speak to what [the parents] understood, but I do believe they were aware of his test results,” Swayer tells Yahoo Life, adding there are a total of six students infected with COVID-19.

Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux tells Yahoo Life that the teen received the test results on Friday and both the city health nurse and contact tracing team informed the school district which ordered the quarantine and informed the school community. “It’s imperative that parents keep their kids home if the kids are Covid positive,” Heroux wrote in a Facebook post. “Additionally if test results are pending, kids should be kept home. If kids are showing any symptoms of COVID-19, they should probably get a test.” It’s also impossible to guarantee that asymptomatic students are not attending school at the moment, he added.

“The district is doing everything it can — it has strict mask and physical distancing policies,” Heroux tells Yahoo Life. “Having said that, we depend on people to do the right thing.” Parents, he says, have been “furious” over the situation.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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