School mask mandate sued in Putnam County

By Josh Ellerbrock -

OTTAWA — Over 20 Ohioans, including a woman from Leipsic, are challenging the state’s mask order for school children after filing a legal complaint with the Putnam County Common Pleas court this past week.

The 24-page document, which asks declaratory judgment and injunctive relief on behalf of its plaintiffs, argues that Interim Ohio Health Director Lance Himes mandated the use of masks for K-12 students through illegal means, and the order’s outcome infringes on their religious, personal, parental and political rights.

“The order compels plaintiffs to publicly affirm the belief that face masks are a healthy way for their children to reduce transmission of COVID. The plaintiffs do not believe this,” the complaint reads.

In the same section, the complaint alleges that mask wearing has “become politically symbolic” and paints Gov. Mike DeWine’s efforts to suppress spread of the coronavirus as a “political position in alignment with Candidate Joe Biden.”

Putnam County’s connection with the document comes through plaintiff and Leipsic resident Jennifer Miller.

Miller had allegedly filed a “religious exemption request” for her child with a local school district, which is unnamed, but she couldn’t obtain an exemption because her request was more of a religious “belief” and not a religious “requirement” that normally would allow a child to be exempt from the order.

In contrast to the complaint, Putnam County Health Commissioner Kim Rieman said she’s heard positive reactions from the schools in Putnam County who have done well implementing the mask requirement.

“Even though we are a red county and have a high number of cases, they are not spreading in the schools. That provides something good to point to show that masks do indeed work,” Rieman said.

As for state’s part, its mask mandate for school children was released in early August, which orders that most school children — except some with disabilities and certain behavioral issues — need to wear a facial covering throughout the day.

At the time, DeWine said the recommendation to mandate K-12 school children to wear masks had been supported by a number of larger health care organizations, including the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association and the Ohio American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Mask wearing is protecting those around us, not just the wearer. So if everyone is wearing a mask, the asymptomatic won’t spread the virus as readily. It’s the right thing to do because we’re protecting others,” Rieman said.

This isn’t the only time the state’s health orders have been challenged since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In the first few months of the outbreak, protesters made their voices heard on the front lawn of former Ohio Public Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, who has since left the high-profile position. DeWine himself has faced lawsuits from multiple businesses as well as a move to impeach him from the legislation.

Currently, Action’s position is filled by Lance Himes, an attorney by trade. His replacement, Dr. Joan Duwve, has since dropped out of taking Acton’s place due to potential harassment of her family.

As of Tuesday, Putnam County has reported 493 cases of COVID-19, 58 hospitalizations and 18 deaths. The county is also ranked as having the highest occurrence rate of new cases out of all of Ohio’s 88 counties.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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