N.J. parents sue Gov. Murphy over mask mandate

A federal lawsuit claims forcing children to wear masks in schools is unconstitutional, and impedes learning.

Students settle in at their desks

In this April 2021 photo, second graders settle in at their desks for their first day of in-person learning in more than a year at H.B. Wilson Elementary School in Camden, N.J. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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A group of parents in New Jersey have filed a lawsuit to block any mask mandate that might be imposed in public schools next fall.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District court against Governor Phil Murphy, as well as the state’s Commissioners of Health and Education, contends that a mask mandate impedes communication and learning in the classroom, and that it was imposed without due legal process.

Similar suits have been filed recently across the country, and proven ultimately unsuccessful in states like Connecticut and Tennessee.

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Attorney Bruce Afram represents parents as part of the group Free NJ Kids. He said such a mandate was never legal to begin with, as the governor’s emergency resolution bypassed the normal rule-making process.

“We have procedures in which agencies can issue orders if they hold hearings, if they have testimony showing the scientific need, if the public can cross-examine the experts, and if the public can testify. Only then can these rules be created,” said Afram.

Afram also will argue that mask mandates violate a right to free speech and a basic sense of personal privacy.

“For children to be masked all day and to have their teachers masked all day prevents basic communication developing between children, and between children and teachers and staff,” said Afram. “It prevents children from developing communication skills.”

Right now there is no statewide mask mandate for New Jersey schools in the fall. Governor Murphy has left the decision up to individual districts, but also has left open the possibility that such a mandate could be reinstated, depending on CDC guidelines and the state of the pandemic come fall.

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One of the parents is Kelly Ford, who launched the anti-mask mandate campaign. She has a son on the autism spectrum who has trouble communicating if he cannot see the other person’s face.

Ford said being forced to wear masks in the classroom impedes learning and stokes anxiety.

“We have situations where children have nosebleeds and they do not take off the mask for fear of getting in trouble,” said Ford. “We have a story of one parent whose daughter threw up in the mask, and did not remove it because she was afraid of getting in trouble.”

Another parent, Ryan Cody of Bordentown, has a son who is attending summer camp where he must wear a mask on state orders, and will be entering first grade in the fall where he will also have to wear a mask.

“It’s just completely absurd that you can go to a bar, a restaurant, a sporting event, a concert, and you’ll be completely fine without a mask,” said Cody. “But these little ones — who were always at the lowest risk for serious COVID infection start — still have to wear a mask.”

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