Parents file lawsuit to stop schools from forcing students to wear masks

Grace and Justin Warniment are like many parents, wrestling over their child's education during the COVID-19 pandemic and they know there is a lot on the line.

"We know that COVID is real. We are not denying that at all," said Warniment.

But when the Warniments learned the Hillsborough County School Board will require all students to wear face masks at school, they thought that went too far.

"We respect anyone who feels they should wear a mask. That's absolutely fine. That's your life; your body, your choice," explained Warniment.

But their choice was to not have their two boys, 8 and 6 years old, wear one.

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That's why the Warniments have joined a lawsuit challenging the school board's mask mandate. They say it not a "one-size-fits-all" solution, according to Justin Warniment.

"Like our 6-year-old with Aspergers, he cannot wear a mask. He would freak out. It's just the nature of his condition so it's important that the parents have that choice," he said.

Tampa attorney Patrick Leduc filed the lawsuit. In the 48-page complaint, Leduc argues parents have the right to choose the medical decisions and treatment for their child.

"The parent gets to make that decision, not the school board," argued Leduc.

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Leduc also claims the school board violated the state constitution and the Sunshine Law in passing the mandate without the public's input. The suit also claims forcing parents to make their child wear a mask or be forced to do e-learning at home amounts to unequal education and a lack of due process.

Tanya Arja, chief of communications for Hillsborough County Public Schools, said in a written statement to FOX 13, the district has not seen the lawsuit yet, but health officials agree face coverings are the most effective way to prevent the virus from spreading.

"We are sensitive to the unique challenges with requiring face coverings in a school setting but we believe it is one of the most important strategies we have to provide an additional layer of protection for everyone on our campuses," the statement said, adding there are exceptions to every rule. "Reasonable exemptions built into the mandate and we will work with families based on their individual needs."

RELATED: Parts of SC with mask mandates saw a 46% decline in coronavirus cases compared to areas without rules

As for the Warniments, they know their stand on the issue might not be a popular one.

"If you truly feel that the mask is protecting you, then it's protecting you. I'm the one taking the risk of sending my child without the mask. That's on me," Warniment said.

Health experts say masks do the most to protect others, rather than the wearer, when worn by those infected with COVID-19, especially asymptomatic carriers.