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Tewksbury parents sue school district, state over mask mandates

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TEWKSBURY — A group of parents has filed a lawsuit over local and statewide mask mandates in schools.

The group of 11 parents filed the suit on behalf of their children in Middlesex Superior Court on Sept. 21, naming both the Tewksbury Public School District and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as defendants for their implementation of mask requirements in the classroom.

The lawsuit claims that the defendants do not have the authority to pass the mandates, and that even if the DESE did have the authority, it “exceeded its authority in doing so.” It further claims that the mandates are pre-empted by the state Department of Public Health’s regulatory scheme regarding infectious diseases and violate the parents’ rights to make health-care decisions for their children.

“DESE’s and the DIstrict’s mask mandates prevent the parents in this lawsuit from directing the care and upbringing of their children,” the lawsuit says. “Requiring a child to wear a mask — particularly as a tool to capture respiratory droplets in order to curb the spread of a virus — is a form of medical intervention and treatment that should be decided by the child’s parents, not a school or school official with absolutely no training in the medical field.”

The parents filing the suit, Peter Carlino, Robert Hanley, Peter Foster, Erin Hudd, Danielle Newell, Christopher Rossetti, Shaun Carr, Angela Deluca Joyce, Lisa McMahan Wilson and Chris and Amy Lutkevich, are represented by Manchester, N.H.-based attorney Robert Fojo. Fojo has also filed four other similar suits in other towns across Massachusetts and several in New Hampshire.

The lawsuit calls masks a “mirage,” “worthless” and a “psychological crutch” that do not prevent transmission of disease. It further claims that COVID-19 has had “no impact” on children in Tewksbury or the rest of Massachusetts.

The state’s COVID-19 data dashboard showed Thursday that there have been 6,656 confirmed cases in people 19 and younger in the past two weeks.

The lawsuit requests that the state declare the mask mandates null and void and end enforcement of them, as well as award the plaintiffs attorney’s fees and costs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking, regardless of vaccination status, for all people in K-12 school buildings. A report released by the CDC on Sept. 24 found that schools without mask mandates were approximately 3.5 times more likely to experience COVID-19 outbreaks compared to schools that started the year with mask requirements.

The DESE announced on Wednesday that it would extend its indoor mask requirement for all students, staff and visitors age 5 and above until at least Nov. 1.

Neither Tewksbury School Superintendent Christopher Malone, nor the DESE responded to requests for comment.