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Lawyer challenges legality of Northampton Public Schools’ temporary mask mandate

Lawyer challenges legality of Northampton Public Schools’ temporary mask mandate
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 11:35 PM EDT
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NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) -Efforts continue in Northampton to reverse the mask mandate that was temporarily put in place last week.

A lawyer representing local advocates took further action Thursday morning, challenging the legality of the district’s decision to reinstate the policy.

Western Mass News spoke to local advocates who are concerned after some students were removed from the classroom for not masking up, saying this is taking away their rights and education.

Northampton public schools temporarily reinstated a mask mandate last week for students and staff, following a rise in COVID-19 cases within the district.

“I want to emphasize that when we make decisions like this very lightly, we are disregarding that there are huge downsides for children,” said Emily Boddy, co-founder of Mask Choice Pioneer Valley.

Mask Choice Pioneer Valley, a volunteer group that was formed when Northampton was one of the last Massachusetts school districts to adopt a mask-optional policy, has been a leading force now in trying to get the mandate reversed.

On Thursday, an attorney representing the group submitted a letter to the school committee challenging the legal power of the school district to reinstate the policy.

“The mask mandate exceeds the authority vested by the policy adopted by the school committee in March, therefore, it’s unenforceable,” Boddy said.

Boddy told Western Mass News the letter presented by their attorney addresses two issues, one, focusing on the legitimacy and enforceability of the mask mandate.

“And then the second part of our concern is the unlawful removal of students from classes denying them an education for failure to wear a mask,” Boddy explained.

Boddy said at least two parents have said their children were removed from the classroom for not wearing face coverings.

“So there is a question there about whether or not that is lawful and we argue that it is not,” Boddy said.

Boddy hopes the school district will review the letter and return the mask mandate to a recommendation.

“So we would like to see them working within the realm of the possibilities they are creating rather than exceeding the bound of their policies,” Boddy said.

Northampton Superintendent John Provost said these claims have been investigated, and are not accurate. School officials found two cases across the district where students were counseled by staff and then returned to class.

In addition, he said the district will respond to the letter received today after having an opportunity to analyze the concerns. Meanwhile, the Health Department is scheduled to meet with school officials’ Friday to review COVID-19 data.