Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Parents are suing school districts that don’t have mask mandates, claiming that their policies are putting kids at risk and even directly contributing to them contracting COVID-19.
And in true Wisconsin fashion, two parents in the Badger State are doing so with the help of a brewery and its super PAC.
Gina Kildahl, whose son attends elementary school in Fall Creek, filed a lawsuit on Monday alleging that the school’s “reckless refusal to implement reasonable COVID-19 measures” led to her 7-year-old son getting infected already this school year, even though he was wearing a mask. The lawsuit claims that by not requiring all students to wear masks, Kildahl’s local school board “threw students into a COVID-19 snakepit.”
Kildahl’s lawsuit follows one filed last week by Shannon Jensen, whose children attend schools in a district near Milwaukee.
Neither of the districts being sued requires masks. In March, the conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down an emergency order from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers that included a statewide mask mandate; Evers said in August he had no plans to issue another one.
While schools in some of Wisconsin’s largest, more liberal cities such as Milwaukee and Madison now require masks, the decision has been left up to local governments and school boards, which means that more conservative areas are less likely to require masks.
More than 57 percent of the state is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wisconsin managed to avoid the worst of the Delta variant earlier this summer, but hospitalizations have still increased to levels not seen since vaccines became widely available.
The lawsuits, if successful, would force school districts to implement masking requirements in accordance with recommendations from the CDC.
Jensen’s lawsuit says her oldest son contracted COVID-19 after a student he sat next to came to school two consecutive days while being symptomatic and maskless. The School District of Waukesha’s “refusal to implement reasonable Covid-19 mitigation strategies, not only affected our immediate family, but if we had been notified sooner of my oldest son's close contact with someone who was diagnosed with Covid-19, we could have prevented possible further community spread of the virus,” the lawsuit says.
“I am just hoping that they will start masking and take some responsibility to keep our kids safe at school,” Kildahl told CNN Tuesday. “On my school’s website, on all of their board documentation they say that they want to provide a safe place to learn. And I think that to do that, especially with the Delta variant out there, they need to start masking kids.”
Kildahl added that it’s “very hard for small children, especially when they’re getting picked on, to not pull those masks down.”
This isn’t the first time parents have sued school districts to require mask policies. In September, Disability Rights North Carolina and a group of parents of more than a dozen kids sued the Lincoln County Board of Education over its mask-optional policy, but a Lincoln County Superior Court judge ruled against them.
Both Wisconsin lawsuits are being backed by the Minocqua Brewing Company super PAC, which is tied to a Wisconsin-based “progressive beer company” of the same name owned by a former Democratic candidate for state Assembly. Kirk Bangstad, the owner of the brewery and head of the PAC, told the Washington Post Monday that he wants to bring accountability to “these school boards who are anti-science and anti-mask.”
“We’re hoping to do a class-action suit against all school boards in Wisconsin that aren’t providing the CDC-recommended mitigations for students,” Bangstad told the Post.