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Judge denies restraining order on mask mandate at northeast Minnesota school district

Sixth Judicial District Judge Robert Friday wrote in his order that based on precedents, the constitutional harms stated by the parents are “not real, but imagined.”

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VIRGINIA, Minn. -- A 6th Judicial District judge denied a request Friday, Oct. 15, by nearly 300 parents for a temporary restraining order against Rock Ridge Public Schools’ mask mandate.

The order by Judge Robert Friday was entered stating “the issue before the court is not the political question of whether masking should or should not be instituted by the school district,” but “whether requiring individuals to wear masks while in a school building violates their rights such that they would be irreparably harmed.”

On Oct. 4, nearly 300 parents filed a lawsuit against Rock Ridge in an effort to block the district’s mask mandate. Rock Ridge, which was formed in July 2020 when the Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert school systems combined, mandates that all staff, students and visitors must wear a mask at all times while inside a district facility.

Friday wrote in his order that based on precedents, the constitutional harms stated by the parents are “not real but imagined.”

“Application of the law to the facts alleged in the amended complaint establishes that (the parents) fail to meet their burden of demonstrating an irreparable harm entitling them to the extraordinary relief a restraining order offers,” Friday wrote. “While there is, among the (parents), a collective feeling of violation of rights because of their individual opposition to masking requirements, such feeling does not establish an actual harm under the law.”


Robb Enslin, an attorney for the parents, said in an email for this story that his clients in this case “consider this matter ongoing and are currently weighing their legal options. As such, they have no further comment at this point.”

Rock Ridge Superintendent Noel Schmidt said in an emailed statement that the actions of the district and its COVID-19 plan “have now been vindicated.”

“In light of the court’s decision, the district will continue to keep its COVID-19 plan in place and will continue to monitor case numbers when deciding on whether to make any changes to the plan,” Schmidt said. “Now is the time for the community to pull together to ensure that we are all doing our part to combat the spread of COVID-19, and to ensure that our students have the opportunity to continue their education in person at school.”

The lawsuit claims that the mandate does not further the health and safety of students, staff and visitors and “is arbitrary in its implementation.” It also claims the mandate “denies students their right to an education under the Minnesota Constitution and will force parents into unlawful actions should their children exercise recognized fundamental rights.”

The lawsuit claims the mandate is an “unwanted and unwarranted preventative medical treatment,” which individuals have a right to refuse. The parents claim if a student refuses to wear a mask, the district will be denied their right of an education. The lawsuit claims if students do not attend school due to the mandate, the parents would be subject to “criminal prosecution.”

Parents can be prosecuted for truancy violations, but would not serve time in jail.

The lawsuit claims that, to date, no widely accepted medical or scientific studies have demonstrated the efficacy of masks in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cited multiple studies that show cloth masks can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in all people and “can both block up to 50-70% of these fine droplets and particles and limit the forward spread of those that are not captured.”

Adelle Whitefoot covers K-12 education in northeast Minnesota for the Duluth News Tribune. She has been covering education in Minnesota since 2014.
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