Austin ISD parents sue district over COVID-19 policies

Austin

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Austin ISD will evaluate the COVID-19 situation in the city and re-assess its mask mandate as needed.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parents within the Austin Independent School District are suing district leaders and the school system itself over mask rules and COVID-19 policies.

According to the lawsuit obtained by KXAN, Austin Parents for Medical Choice, Loni Faye Neuffer, Steve
Wagner, Sarah Wagner, Collette Antoine and Tom Lonsdale are listed as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit states:

“Plaintiffs bring this action pursuant to the Texas Open Meetings Act because AISD adopted these policies without an open vote, the Texas Declaratory Judgment Act because the mask and quarantine policies are unsupported by Texas law, and violations of the Texas Constitution.”

The group is seeking “a declaration that AISD’s mask and quarantine policies are void and unenforceable.” They are asking for “injunctive relief to end ongoing irreparable harm that these policies are causing to their minor children.”

KXAN spoke to one of the plaintiffs, Loni Neuffer, who has two children in Austin ISD. She says one of them was diagnosed with epilepsy this year.

“Every day she’s going to school terrified like, ‘am I going to have a seizure today, and is there going to be someone around to help me to take my mask off so I can breathe?'” Neuffer explained.

That’s why she says she joined the group of parents filing the 278-page lawsuit challenging the district’s mask mandate and quarantine policy.

“We are not a group against masks whatsoever, we absolutely want choice. Parents should choose for themselves,” Neuffer said.

A district spokesperson told KXAN 80% of families surveyed in August were in favor of masks, and the district will keep the mandate in place throughout the school year as needed. It plans to keep evaluating the COVID-19 situation in the city and re-assess its mask mandate as needed.

“We are seeing an overwhelmingly positive and compliant response to our mask mandate — we know that masks work,” said Eduardo Villa, media relations specialist with Austin ISD.

Villa says a school nurse can help families apply for a mask exemption.

“Parents or guardians or staff who may need a mask exemption can go to visit the campus health room,” Villa explained. “In order to get a mask exemption, there will be some sort of input from a health care professional, so a medical form saying a mask exception is needed.”

On Thursday evening, an AISD spokesperson said the district had not been served the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on any part of it until it does. So far this school year, AISD has had one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 cases among students and staff in Central Texas.

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