Parent plaintiff pleads for “help” for his daughter suffering from school mask mandates

Case Number: PC-2021-05915 Filed in Providence/Bristol County Superior Court

Plaintiff, Jonathan Barrett, is a resident of Glocester, Rhode Island. The reasons for his bringing this lawsuit are as follows:

I have witnessed the deterioration and decline in my daughter’s interest in going to school and doing her best work while these mask mandates have been occurring. This is the third school year in a row that has been interrupted by pandemic. Distance learning, while not optimal, at least allowed her to breathe freely. Still, the loneliness and isolation of distance learning took an emotional toll on my daughter that was observable in attitude and increased moodiness confirmed by her pediatrician as being beyond what would be expected for her age and maturity.

My daughter, age 11 and in 6th grade, has always been bright and curious. From the time she hit preschool, she was the first to run over to a new kid in class and invite them to play. Vivacious and charming, witty yet diplomatic, she excelled in school and always participated in extracurricular activities such our local Talent Show, Student Council, Girl Scouts, and many more. This is the kind of kid who would beg to go school shopping for new notebooks etc. barely a week after school let out for the summer. When the pandemic first hit, she adapted and took things in stride. The first school year was challenging because of distance learning, but she bounced back pretty quickly once summer 2020 hit and she was able to visit her friends in person. There were also group video calls and many giggles among her pals as they planned outdoor activities, etc. The second school year (Grade 5) she attended in-person, wearing a mask. She never (rarely) saw her teacher’s face, and experienced some difficulty communicating with her friends and her teacher through the required masking. With so much still unknown about the virus and how it was transmitted, she was resilient and mostly happy to be back in school despite the challenges of never leaving the classroom or seeing any of her other friends during school hours. Over the course of the year, I could see her interest in school waning.

Although still doing exceedingly well in school, her love of learning was beginning to wane. While still scoring above grade level in the majority of areas, she had lost her excitement and enthusiasm for school. The toll of isolation started impacting her friendships, and slowly she started drawing her circle of friends smaller. She started to lose her interest in people. Things started getting better for her during summer of 2021. She was aware that the General Assembly limited the Governor’s State of Emergency and was cheered by it. While now in the habit of being somewhat withdrawn, she again started to enjoy visiting with friends and new places. Things were looking up! She was less excited to go shopping for new school supplies than in prior years, this time waiting over two weeks before asking for new notebooks etc., but we were making forward progress and learning about her new school building now that she was entering 6th grade.

Then came the new Executive Order from Gov. Dan McKee specific to the Delta Variant, and subsequent mask mandates which, in her view, has ruined things again. She’s asking why it’s OK for her to visit with her friends and have an ice cream at a restaurant without a mask, but they both need to be masked up when sitting together at school. She feels that some of her teachers treat her and other students like proper wearing of a mask is more important than whatever lesson it is that is supposed to be taught. She struggles to breathe through the mask, and it’s distracting her from focusing on the material at school. She’d like to experience Band, but is anxious about trying to play a wind instrument through a mask she already struggles to breathe through while at rest.

She is growing more and more frustrated, angry, moody, and withdrawn about wearing a mask based on a State of Emergency that she knows wasn’t supposed to be extended because of the General Assembly’s vote to end it. She is again losing her excitement and enthusiasm for school. Again, she’s becoming more withdrawn from her friends and not wanting to participate in extracurricular activities simply because she doesn’t want to wear a mask for even more hours of the day. She is willing to miss her first Dance, a rite of passage, simply because she doesn’t want to wear a mask for more hours in the day. Please, help my little girl by ending this and granting the injunction.

This is her third school year that’s been impacted, and it needs to stop. We need to find a way to live with this virus, and the way forward is not for little kids to have impaired breathing for 8 hours a day 5 days a week. It’s not fair that the brunt of the impact of Gov. McKee’s decision is borne by our children having to wear a mask for hours on end. She lives for the weekend when she can relax without a mask. It’s hard to get her out of the house to go shopping or visit a museum because she doesn’t want to wear a mask. Even the lure of a new outfit isn’t compelling enough to make her want to go out.

This has all gone way too far. On her 2nd day of school, my daughter was subjected to a mask tyrant teacher who lined all children up outside in the hallway and subjected them to a “mask inspection.” This teacher, who was confirmed by her school’s principal to have no medical certification, capriciously deemed my daughter’s mask “insufficient.” As a result, my daughter was named, shamed, singled out, traumatized, and embarrassed and forced to change her mask to a school-supplied one meant for an adult, or else she was denied entry into the classroom.

This kind of behavior is intolerable, it goes directly against RIDE’s guidance, and it is the catalyst for the decision to join this lawsuit.