The action is the first such known as parents throughout Wisconsin seek remedies for school districts that don’t require COVID safety.
Fearing for the health of their 6-year-old daughter if she attends school, parents filed legal action Friday against the Menomonie Area School District for its failure to provide protections for her against COVID-19, the first known case of its kind in Wisconsin.
District residents Thomas Pearson and his wife Tiffani Taggart are seeking a special education due process hearing with district officials. They contend the school board’s decision to not require face masks for most of this school year and its failure to mandate other COVID-19 mitigation measures does not allow their daughter Michaela to attend school safely and receive the same educational opportunities as other students.
Michaela is a first-grader at Oaklawn Elementary School and has Down syndrome, placing her in a high-risk category for contracting COVID-19 and suffering worse health impacts from the virus than her peers. Because of her age, she cannot yet receive a vaccination protecting her from COVID-19.
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“Our daughter has the right to be safe at school,” Pearson told UpNorthNews. “Right now, they are excluding her.”
In a notice filed Friday and addressed to Menomonie Superintendent Joe Zydowsky, civil rights attorney Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, who is representing Michaela and her family, alleges the district “has failed to provide a free appropriate public education for Student, during the 2021-22 school year, and continues to fail to do so.”
In the notice, the parents demand a district-wide mask requirement for all students and staff, a vaccine requirement for staff, and mandatory quarantining for all COVID-positive individuals and their close contacts.
The Menomonie Area School District voted Monday to require face masks in school for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. However, the board is scheduled to reconsider its mask policy at a special meeting on Sunday. It voted twice earlier this year against requiring masks.
Last year Michaela attended school in person as masks were required, Pearson said. But this school year, without masks mandated at school, she is receiving her special education curriculum at her home via online learning, he said.
“She is missing out on all of the classroom dynamics, the kind of learning that she would be receiving normally,” Pearson said. “We are not asking for anything unusual, just what is being recommended by district leaders and public health officials.”