October 25, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
An in-person mask mandate lawsuit hearing involving some Hingham parents is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 2 p.m. at the Hampden County Superior Courthouse, 50 State St., Springfield.
As background, Hingham parents are part of five lawsuits against the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education and the Hingham Public Schools and other school districts that challenge state and local mask mandates.
The non-profit Children's Health Rights of Massachusetts is also a plaintiff in three of the lawsuits, including the one against the Hingham and other school districts, because some members of that organization are parents with children enrolled in public school districts that are being sued.
CHRM announced this week that Judge David Hodge requested that the hearing be in person. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a limited number of people will be admitted into the courtroom. A mask mandate is in place for anyone entering the building unless an individual requests and is granted an accommodation. A gathering of supporters is expected to take place in front of the courthouse.
The lawsuit centers around Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley's issuance of a public school mask mandate for the entire state last August requiring all K-12 public schools students ages five and older, educators, staff, and visitors to wear face masks until at least Oct. 1 in order to allow time to increase the vaccination rate in school buildings. Riley recently extended that deadline until Nov. 1 or later.
Riley's initial policy called for allowing middle and high schools to potentially lift the mask mandate for vaccinated students and staff only after Oct. 1 if they reached a certain vaccination threshold – that at least 80 percent of students and staff, combined, in a school building are vaccinated.
Robert Fojo, the attorney for the five lawsuits, explained earlier to the Hingham Anchor the reason behind the lawsuits. "The Department of Elementary & Secondary Education and school districts don't have the statutory authority to pass broad health measures like these," he said, noting that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's existing statutes and rules "don't provide for a broad mask mandate in response to coronavirus."
Fojo, a New Hampshire lawyer, who also practices in Massachusetts, is also representing parents in his own state in similar lawsuits challenging school district mask mandates.
"A favorable outcome -- meaning if DESE loses the lawsuit -- would invalidate DESE's mask mandate," Fojo said earlier. "We would then try to use this decision to force the school districts involved in the lawsuits to rescind their mandates as well."