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Kansas City Health Experts Question Claims In Northland Parents' Lawsuit Over Mask Mandates

A child wearing a mask inside a classroom in North Kansas City.
Submitted photo
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North Kansas City Schools
Children and staff wearing masks inside a classroom.

The lawsuit's claims butt up against recommendations from local doctors and health experts, who endorse masking as a critical defense against the delta variant now surging across the region.

A group of Northland parents that is suing seven local school districts in an effort to block their mask mandates is relying on studies whose validity medical experts have called into question.

The Northland Parents Association filed the lawsuit in federal court on Sunday, claiming the mask mandates and quarantine policies in place in the Excelsior Springs, Kearney, Liberty, North Kansas City, Smithville, Park Hill and Platte County school districts are unconstitutional and unreasonable.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, North Kansas City Mayor Bryant DeLong and the city councils of both municipalities are also named in the suit.

“COVID-19 transmission rates among children are low, and we must stand up and protect our children against government overreach and keep parents at the center of their children’s care,” Jay Richmond, president of the Northland Parent Association, said in a news release.

The lawsuit claims that children are not as susceptible to COVID-19 as adults and are less likely to spread the virus. It cites several studies from around the globe purporting to question the effectiveness of masking and even arguing that masks are harmful to children.

Those claims butt up against recommendations from local doctors and health experts, who endorse masking as a critical defense against the delta variant now surging across the region.

What health experts say

Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, dean of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine and an expert on infectious diseases and vaccines, said the sources cited in the lawsuit lacked credibility.

“Many of the pieces of evidence that they list come from opinions, come from surveys that are non-validated, and come from medical journals that are not highly regarded medical journals,” Jackson told KCUR.

Medical journals are ranked by their "impact factor," with scores under 2 considered as not credible, according to Jackson. She said one study cited in the lawsuit on the allegedly harmful effects of mask wearing on children was published in a journal with an impact score of less than one.

Jackson said credible studies show community mask wearing reduces the spread of COVID-19. Early on in the pandemic, Jackson said children were thought to be less likely to spread COVID since they were at home more often and had limited social interactions. She said that thinking has changed since the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant. A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that younger children were actually more likely to transmit COVID to household contacts than older children.

Jackson said children are indeed less likely to contract serious infections or to die from COVID compared with adults. But she noted that a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that COVID cases among children have risen exponentially in the past month.

Physicians at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City say that’s reflected in the number of children admitted with COVID over the last few weeks. The pediatric hospital recently said it had hit a record number of COVID-19 patients, exceeding highs seen last winter.

While children experience fewer deaths and hospitalizations from COVID, Dr. Angela Myers, the hospital’s director of pediatric infectious diseases, said that “any death is too much.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 385 children younger than 18 had died of COVID in the U.S. as of Aug. 15.

Myers said there are reasons to be concerned about a child’s well-being even if they have a mild case of the virus, including the possible development of a serious condition known as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, or MIS-C.

“We want to prevent infections because we want to prevent hospitalizations, and we want to prevent death. But we also want to prevent MIS-C, we also want to prevent long term COVID symptoms, which is more common in adults, but does also happen in kids,” Myers said at a briefing on Tuesday.

Myers said doctors at the hospital “stand by the science” and have worked to create safety guidance with local school districts to keep students in the classroom this year.

Districts back their safety efforts

The Northland Parents Association lawsuit also questions the district’s quarantine policies, saying it creates “two separate but unequal classes of students” of those who are vaccinated and those who are not. Some districts have implemented policies exempting vaccinated students from quarantining after a COVID exposure.

Susan Hiland, a spokesperson for North Kansas City School District, said in a statement that the district would not comment on pending litigation, but “due in large part to the district’s safety efforts, our students, staff, and families enjoyed an excellent first week of school.”

Liberty Public Schools said it has already seen positive cases in its schools.

“It is also important to note that we would already have a significantly higher number of students and staff quarantined if mask requirements were not currently in place as we follow COVID-19 policies and procedures set forth by federal and local health officials,” Dallas Ackerman, a district spokesperson, said in a statement.

The Northland Parents Association's lawsuit is similar to ones filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt seeking to strike down mask mandates across the state.

During an appearance on KCUR's Up to Date on Tuesday, Kansas City Mayor Lucas called Schmitt's suits and the parent group's lawsuit “ridiculous.” He said the suits were based on misstatements of the medical evidence.

“Just the falsities that are being told, the clear lies that are being told in so many of these filings. For example, they're saying children don't really have risks from COVID-19, masks aren't effective. They're the sorts of things that are grossly irresponsible,” Lucas said.

Schmitt sued the Columbia Public School District over its mask mandate last week and other "similarly situated" districts — essentially seeking to block every school district in the state from imposing mask mandates.

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