On November 11, 2021, Judge Mariani, U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied a request for a preliminary injunction to block the implementation of a policy adopted by the Delaware Valley School Board that allowed for medical exemption from the Department of Health’s mandatory masking Order of September 7th without medical documentation.
Judge Mariani had previously granted a temporary restraining order halting implementation of the policy. The November 11, 2021 Order followed seven hours of hearing.
The lawsuit brought by five John/Jane Doe Complaints (at least one from the parent of a child with a disability) claimed violation of the ADA, Section 504, 1st Amendment Right to Free Association and Fundamental Rights protected under the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Before a Court can grant a Preliminary Injunction, the plaintiffs must prove that they are likely to ultimately prevail on the legal merits of their claim and that they will suffer irrevocable harm if the injunction is not granted. In this case, the Court found that the plaintiffs’ case failed on both counts.
To qualify for a medical exemption from the mandatory masking Order, the Delaware Valley Policy required only that a parent or guardian attest that wearing of a mask by the child would “cause or exacerbate a medical condition.” The attestation is subject to penalties relating to unsworn falsification to authorities.
On the substantive Due Process Claim, the Court first found that there was a rational basis for a policy that only requires parental attestation.
The Court acknowledged testimony by Board Members at the hearing that some parents were unable to get notes from their doctors and that other physicians had been directed by superiors in their organizations to provide notes for any mask exemptions.
While Judge Mariani expressed skepticism about the prudence of the Policy and whether it was merely an attempt to circumvent the Department of Health (DOH) Order, he nevertheless concluded that, “This Court cannot read into the DOH Order what is not there, and it is not within the province of the Court to assign certain intentions to the PA DOH in issuing its Order that the Department itself did not include clear unambiguous language, nor, is it within the province of the Court to question the motivations of the School Board Members.”
The Court acknowledged that the School Boards’ decision might not have been based on scientific evidence and that the policy could place students at higher risk of transmission. Essentially, the Court held that it could “not read into the DOH Order what was not there,” and that it could not substitute its judgment for the judgment of elected School Board Members.
In its extensive analysis, the Court also found that the plaintiffs had no basis for relief under the ADA Section 504, First Amendment or Pennsylvania Constitution.
Bottom Line for Schools
The Delaware Valley case stands only for the proposition that the law does not require medical documentation to justify a medical exemption from the masking mandate.
However, the Court made it clear that nothing in the opinion would prevent a School District from requiring medical documentation for a medical exemption and that such a requirement would not violate the rights of students.
School Law Bullets are a publication of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.