Judge denies order requiring Lincoln County Schools to mandate masks

LINCOLN COUNTY, N.C. — A judge denied a temporary restraining that would have forced the Lincoln County School Board to return to mandatory masks inside classrooms.

The decision came on Thursday, days after the judge heard arguments based on a lawsuit filed by parents who wanted to overturn the district’s Sept. 14 decision to make masks optional.

The lawsuit basically said that children forced to go to school without a mask are in danger of serious illness or death.

It included affidavits from a pediatrician in Goldsboro and an expert on infectious diseases from Atrium Health.

In the courtroom on Tuesday, attorneys for the school system said the general assembly gave local school boards the right to decide if masks should be required. At one point, the attorney argued how the other side characterized their position.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of families of 13 students ages 5-14 years old. Those students are in individual learning plans, and their names have been kept secret for fear of backlash for taking a stand.

The lawsuit spoke generally to the argument for masks in school. It said the number of new cases in August was at its highest point since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also said the school board ignored sound medical advice when they voted to end mandatory masks in school.

Dr. Becky Reavis, a psychologist and mother of a 13-year-old in Lincoln County Schools, said her daughter watched that school board meeting.

“She cried when they voted,” Reavis said.

She said the science in the lawsuit is hard to ignore.

“Someone who wants to go against the science is honestly being willfully ignorant,” Reavis said.

Still, other parents maintain that this is their choice and that school mask mandates are about control, not safety.

“We are mandating less-efficient face coverings for not at risk kids in the classrooms. We need to stop going in to fear,” father Kevin Sanders said.

After hearing both sides, the judge decided to deny the temporary restraining order, which means that Lincoln County Schools will not be required to mandate masks.

The judge did not heavily weigh in on potential harm to students in the court documents, but instead said, “No state or federal laws prohibit the board from making face coverings optional.”

He also said the state gave the school board the authority to decide this issue and that ”... the court would be inserting itself into an area where state and local health officials, with specific public health expertise, are charged with acting.”

That’s exactly what father Jase Laumea wanted to hear.

“I’m very happy,” he said. “These kids, they are really affected by this virus to begin with.”

Laumea has three children in Lincoln County schools. He said one has asthma and had trouble breathing with the mask on.

“It’s just crazy to mandate them in the beginning,” he said.

Parent David Bonnema said he almost joined the suit on behalf of his two children in public school and an infant at home. He said he’s frustrated with the decision that gives so much power to the school board.

“It’s scary to know that they are in charge of this decision,” Bonnema said.

He said he and his wife debated about taking their children out of school, but kept them in because the school is taking extra social distancing precautions in class.

Lincoln County’s optional face mask policy went into effect on Sept. 29 and the board is scheduled to discuss the mask policy again on Oct. 12.

(Watch Below: Frustration continues for parents of students at Lincoln County Schools)