JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of the 18 parents who filed a lawsuit against the Duval County School Board over its mask mandate this week is speaking out about why he feels the rule is harming children with learning disabilities.
“People want to break it down into mask versus no masks. Well, it’s not mask versus no masks, it’s learning. What’s the optimal safe way for our kids to learn?” said plaintiff Gary Desjardins. “That’s up to the parents to make that decision.”
The lawsuit comes a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis filed an appeal to a court ruling that said he exceeded his authority by banning mask mandates in Florida schools.
The 18 parents are seeking an injunction against a school district mask mandate and damages totaling $100,000.
Desjardins said he and his wife didn’t file the lawsuit because their child needed a medical exemption to not wear a mask in school, but because school district counselors diagnosed their child with a learning disability hindered by having to wear a mask or face shield.
“What we learned in the last year is that if you create an environment where there are barriers with a plastic shield and the teachers talking with a mask and my son with a mask on, that creates sensory deprivation that it’s critical for kids to learn,” Desjardins said.
Desjardins said his son was miserable last year because the mask created barriers that made it hard for him to understand the teacher and created a sense of embarrassment when his son asked questions in class about lessons.
As a result, he said his son’s grades started slipping. Desjardins said he and his wife are not against protecting children from COVID-19, but they do believe a mask mandate is not a one size fits all solution.
“The school board needs to answer to the parents, which is to say, they need to provide equal opportunities,” Desjardins said.
The debate over mask mandates in school comes at a time when more children are being admitted into the hospital for COVID-19 infections. At the same time, school districts across the state are temporarily closing campuses because of outbreaks.
Duval County Public Schools leaders said they are not commenting on statements made by the parent because of the pending lawsuit.
The 90-day mask mandate for Duval students without a medical opt out goes into effect on Tuesday.