Suit against Johnson County school mask mandate dismissed after child risks ‘vitriol’

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A lawsuit filed by a Blue Valley family challenging the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners’ mask mandate for schools has been dismissed, the lawyer representing the family said Tuesday.

Earlier this month, a Blue Valley parent and middle school student sued over the county’s pandemic health order requiring masks in schools that serve students as old as sixth grade. The suit argued that the order is overly restrictive because it lasts through the end of the school year.

But attorney Ryan Kriegshauser, who represented the family, said there has been an agreement to dismiss the case. The student was only identified by the initials M.M.C. in the lawsuit. The child’s parent was identified as B.C.

County officials said in a statement that the family elected to voluntarily dismiss the case, and the county consented. But there was no settlement.

“In coordination with the Plaintiff’s parents, we have decided that dismissal of this case is ultimately in the best interest of their minor child given the risk of being subjected to vitriol, rumors, and innuendo from bad actors for simply standing up to challenge a nearly yearlong order,” Kriegshauser said in an email to The Star.

“Unfortunately, as demonstrated by recent events in the press, there are individuals that wish to spew vitriol and hate in the face of even our reasonable position. At the core of our matter there is a minor child, and we could not continue this case in good faith looking to the child’s best interests given the dangerous public environment in which we currently find ourselves.”

But the county continues to face legal challenges to the school mask mandate.

More than 20 parents joined in a lawsuit earlier this month against the Board of County Commissioners, arguing that the health order is unconstitutional and should be ruled invalid.

“Ultimately, they don’t want county bureaucrats telling them how they need to be parenting their children,” attorney Andrew Protzman told The Star. “My clients believe very strongly every parent should choose what medical path is right for their child, not some county board that’s never met their children.”

Public health experts agree that masks are a safe, effective and reasonable tool to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is especially important in schools where children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that schools require universal masking this fall as the highly contagious delta variant causes more cases among children.

The petition includes several claims about the effects of children wearing masks, and argues that the mandate is a violation of free speech because masks have become so politicized, simply wearing one means someone is making a political statement.

The lawsuit comes as major revisions to Kansas emergency management law are challenged in court. Senate Bill 40, which limits health officials’ emergency powers, was ruled unconstitutional earlier this summer by a Johnson County District Court Judge David Hauber. But then the Kansas Supreme Court granted Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s request for a stay until the higher court has considered his appeal.

Protzman said the petition details reasons the county health order should be ruled invalid, whether or not Senate Bill 40 is determined to be unconstitutional.

On Monday, District Court Judge Rhonda Mason ordered that because the suit deals with the constitutionality of the law, she would grant the attorney general an opportunity to be heard in the case.

Across the Kansas City metro, municipalities and school districts have faced a deluge of legal challenges to their pandemic orders. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a class action lawsuit last month seeking to block school districts statewide from mandating masks. Schmitt had already sued Kansas City, Jackson County and other localities over their mask requirements.

In addition, a new nonprofit group, representing parents in the Northland, is suing seven school districts, along with elected officials in Kansas City and North Kansas City, over their mask mandates and quarantine policies.

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