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A group of parents with students in schools that have not mandated masks has sued the state of Minnesota and Gov. Tim Walz, arguing that allowing schools to operate without mask requirements puts students at risk and violates their constitutional right to an "adequate" education.

The lawsuit was filed late Friday in Ramsey County District Court on behalf of a group called "Parents Advocating for Safe Schools." None of the parents were identified in the suit, but Marshall Tanick, one of the attorneys representing them, said the group comprises parents from across the state, all of whom have children in school districts that have opted not to mandate masks.

The parents want Walz to declare a peacetime emergency and issue an executive order to mandate masks in all public schools. They say not doing so violates students' rights and amounts to discrimination against students with disabilities.

"We are hopeful that the court will recognize that subjecting students, teachers, staff and visitors to schools to dangerous, hazardous situations where masks aren't required deprives the students of the ability to have an adequate education as guaranteed by the state constitution," Tanick said.

Unlike last year, when Walz had emergency powers and was able to issue specific rules for pandemic safety measures in schools, school districts now have the ability to set their own rules for masking, quarantines and other COVID-19 protocols.

The state departments of health and education, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have recommended that all schools mandate masks. Many districts, particularly in the Twin Cities metro area, are requiring masks for some or all students and staff. But in much of greater Minnesota, districts have opted to recommend but not require mask use in school facilities.

In a statement issued on behalf of the parent group, one parent outlined her concerns.

"We believe that mandatory masking is essential to the safety, health and well-being of our children, as well as staff members at schools, and those visiting school sites," said Dr. Loucresie Rupert, a Winona physician who specializes in psychiatry and one of the parents involved in the lawsuit.

"As a former high school teacher, Gov. Walz will always prioritize the health and safety of Minnesota students, and he expects the Legislature to help him," said Teddy Tschann, a spokesman for the Walz administration. "The Governor's Office is reviewing the complaint and will continue to work with schools and parents to keep kids safe."

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790