Federal lawsuit filed by North Allegheny parents to block district’s mask-optional policy

ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. — With a mask-optional policy set to take effect Monday at North Allegheny schools, the parents of four students with physical challenges are taking legal action against the district.

“This policy of optional masking is discriminatory to disabled children,” said attorney Ken Behrend, who is representing the parents in this federal suit.

Their goal is to keep universal masking in place.

The families involved do not want to be identified, but Behrend notes there are more than 1,500 students in the district who are considered high-risk of contracting, and getting seriously ill from, COVID-19.

“One has a team of doctors that oversees his condition that said, ‘if you’re exposed to COVID it could be a death sentence,’” said Behrend.

The high-risk kids who are represented in the suit range in age from elementary to high school.

Unless the court overturns the optional masking policy, their parents face a difficult decision.

“If you keep your kid at home it causes mental health problems -- isolation and segregation -- which is also discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” explained Behrend. “On the other hand, you have a physical health issue of, can you get COVID and get sick and possibly die?”

The legal challenge to this new policy comes as Allegheny County’s COVID-19 dashboard reports a 36.7% positive test rate over the last seven days.

“The [schools] have been masking through the entire fall and now, in the middle of a dramatic increase in the spread of COVID due to omicron, now they pick a random date, with no rhyme or reason to say, ‘we’re not going to mask anymore.’ It’s nonsense,” said Behrend.

A spokesperson for North Allegheny School District said the district does not comment on pending litigation.