Family of asthmatic student sues Franklin Square school district over mask mandate


The mother of a 10-year-old student at John Street School, in Franklin Square, filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month, demanding that her daughter, who suffers from asthma and anxiety, be exempted from the statewide mandate requiring students to wear masks in school.

The lawsuit, which asks for an injunction that would allow the girl to attend school unmasked this fall, charges that the school mask mandate put into effect by the state Department of Health, under the direction of Gov. Kathy Hochul, is unconstitutional and violates the student’s due process rights.

“This denial violates Sarah’s fundamental rights,” the lawsuit argues. “Sarah and her family have constitutionally protected rights to a medical exemption from a state regulation that can cause Sarah harm.”

Court documents show that the student’s pediatrician wrote a medical exemption and verified that wearing a mask for the entire school day was not safe for the girl. The school district rejected the request earlier this month.

New guidance issued by the Health Department this month allows school districts to grant exemptions from the mandate to certain students if they can produce documentation from a medical provider. “People with medical or developmental conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask may be exempted from mask requirements,” the department’s update stated.

Sujata S. Gibson, the attorney representing the family, filed an emergency motion on Sept. 8, asking that a hearing be held to argue that the district must accept the student’s medical exemption. Gibson told Newsday that the student planned to attend school this year but was “very nervous” about having to wear a mask.

Gibson said the girl would comply with the mask-wearing rule if she had to, but added that her mother was concerned about the physical and psychological well-being of her daughter, who is unable to breathe well while wearing a mask. She has suffered from severe respiratory issues since birth, and has been treated in the past for severe asthma attacks, according to the lawsuit. Additionally, the girl’s anxiety exacerbates her difficulty with breathing when she wears a mask.

Court documents also state that the girl struggle while wearing a mask last year, when she was in fifth grade. She began bringing her asthma pump to school, because the mask impeded her breathing and she had to use the pump more frequently, according to court documents.

The lawsuit charges that mask-wearing requirements negatively impacted her grades last year.

“Until last year, Sarah had gotten all A’s and was a model student,” court documents state. “Her grades began slipping, and she was frequently asked to go to the principal’s office for pulling down her mask to try to breathe. … Sarah’s anxiety became crippling.”

The court documents also broadly question the effectiveness of mask wearing by students to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “Plaintiff does not consent to allow her daughter to be forced to use this experimental device, especially as it would be against the medical advice of her child’s treating physician,” the lawsuit states. The mother of the student, it charges, “has a protected Fourteenth Amendment right to life, and to protect her daughter’s life, secured by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, which includes the right to refuse nonconsensual administration of any objectionable medical product, and/or to be free from the forced administration of medical procedures and devices that Plaintiff reasonably believes may cause her daughter harm.”

According to court documents, the rejection by the school district of the medical exemption provided by the student’s pediatrician followed a recommendation by a school district doctor who “based this decision on review of the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] website which makes generalized representations about asthma and face masks.”

Last spring, the girl’s mother submitted a physician’s exemption that was also denied after being reviewed by a school district doctor, according to court documents. “There is nothing in the law that authorizes them to overrule this girl’s treating physicians,” Gibson said.