Prince George mom says district is illegally forcing face coverings on medically exempt students

Health

PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A Prince George County parent says the school district is forcing her disabled daughter to wear a mask — ignoring she has a medical exemption.

Some central Virginian school districts aren’t letting any kids in the classroom at all. In those areas, everyone is learning strictly from home. However, the parent said the schools who still do have in-person instruction need to honor students’ rights.

“This is a punishment for these kids. You are suspending these kids from school,” Katie Bradshaw said. 8-year-old Brooklyn Bradshaw has autism and PTSD, which her mom says makes Brooklyn medically exempt from wearing a face covering in school.

Still, they’ve tried to make it work. “To think that we as parents like this did not try to make the mask fun, to have them color it, to have them bedazzle a face shield…to think that we as parents did not do that is just ignorant,” she said.

Bradshaw said the district told her if Brooklyn doesn’t get better at consistently wearing a covering by the end of the week, she must learn strictly from home. “I get it. They have to do what they have to do to make sure to stay open so everyone is getting an education… but it is hurting children with special needs or genuine medical conditions,” the mother told 8News.

Bradshaw said the move violates two disability acts, the FAPE and IDEA, as well as the face covering medical exemption on Governor Northam’s executive order.

“They legally cannot do that,” she said.

8News legal analyst Russ Stone said the situation is “clear as mud”. He said the pandemic’s circumstances could give both parties a case in court. Bradshaw said she’s emailed school board members begging for help but not heard back.

“If you are constantly forcing these things on her where she is having PTSD attacks, which we have had some triggers this week due to this new policy, you are going to make her fear going to school,” the mother said.

Just one school board member returned 8News’ request for comment Thursday evening. School board member Rob Eley referred our questions to Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff.

The superintendent declined 8News’ interview request but sent a statement. “In the interest of protecting the privacy of our school community, we are unable to speak to specific circumstances involving students, faculty, and staff,” she said.

The message also said to protect everyone, they work with students individually to find a face covering that works, while referencing Governor Northam’s amended Executive Order 63. It states “adaptations and alternatives for individuals with health conditions or disabilities should be considered whenever possible to increase the feasibility of wearing a mask or to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading if it is not possible to wear one.”

“Prince George County Public Schools works to provide a variety of face-covering options for our students, faculty, and staff to utilize, including traditional masks, cloth face coverings, and plexiglass face shields, among others. We also work to help students individually with finding an appropriate face covering that can allow them to continue to learn in-person that also supports the safety needs of all students and staff. After all alternatives are exhausted to support the use of a face covering, virtual instruction is available as an option for the family to protect those learning and working inside our schools,” the statement read.

Pennycuff also added that the district’s efforts are centered on protecting the health and safety of their students, teachers, faculty and staff at their schools while understanding the important role face coverings, physical distancing, and frequent cleaning play in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News for updates.

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