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Judge upholds mask mandate in Rhode Island schools

November 12, 2021 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A judge upheld Rhode Island’s school mask mandate on Friday.

A group of Rhode Island parents and grandparents filed a legal challenge in September to Gov. Daniel McKee’s statewide school mask mandate. But the judge found the public interest weighs against granting their petition for a preliminary injunction against the mandate.

Superior Court Associate Justice Jeffrey Lanphear wrote that the court heard credible testimony from multiple plaintiffs that their children were suffering adverse effects from wearing masks, including physical and emotional discomfort and reduced interaction with peers and teachers.

At the same time, Lanphear wrote that the governor and health department are responsible for protecting the health and safety of all residents, and have presented substantial evidence that the mandate is a reasonable and appropriate means to minimize the serious risk posed by COVID-19.

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“Even with the recognition that the wearing of masks creates some irreparable harm to students, that harm is significantly outweighed by the harm caused by the unmasked spread of the disease, particularly among children,” the decision said.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs said that while they were happy the judge acknowledged mask-wearing does harm students, they were “disappointed in the decision which appears to give the Governor and Department of Health unlimited powers overriding parents and their children’s health concerns,” according to a statement released Friday.

The lawsuit alleged that the Democratic governor violated state law and the state constitution in both signing the K-12 mask mandate and also declaring a new state of emergency due to the delta variant of the coronavirus.

McKee signed an executive order Friday extending the mask mandate until mid-December.