Oral Arguments Heard in Parents Mask Lawsuit Against Missoula Schools

Missoula County Court Room 4 was at capacity with families and students this morning for oral arguments in a lawsuit brought by parents against mask mandates from Missoula County schools. Judge Jason Marks allowed extra time for the burgeoning crowd in the lobby overflow area to pull up the Zoom meeting link on their phones.

Missoula County Public Schools attorney Elizabeth Kaleva and her associate attorney Kevin Tidwell stood speaking maskless in the lobby of the courthouse before court proceedings while waiting for the court room to be opened. When parents and student entered the lobby, the attorneys pulled up their face masks.

Kaleva told a parent of an Alberton School student in late August in an email that the school district “does not need your consent” to coerce students into wearing masks or possible testing requirements

No one in the court room was masked except for the court clerk and the school lawyers.

Attorney for the parents, Quentin Rhoades, argued that children and parents have a right to privacy and to make medical decisions for their own children. The suit asks for a preliminary injunction against Missoula County Public Schools to halt the mask mandate. Rhoades said that the schools have not demonstrated the compelling government interest that masks work to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Kaleva argued that the school districts authority to mandate masks is protected under the Montana Constitution and was reaffirmed by Governor Greg Gianforte and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen’s joint statement urging school districts to listen to parents.

The schools attorney characterized the plaintiffs in the lawsuit as a “small group of parents” and said the injunction should not be granted because the “status quo” of schools is to have students masked.

After hearing arguments, rebuttals, and asking questions of attorneys, Judge Marks said he will rule on the preliminary injunction against the schools mask mandates shortly and set a trial date for April.

Rhoades said that if either party is not in accordance with the judges ruling on the preliminary injunction against the schools mask mandate, the injunction request can be taken to the Montana Supreme Court on an interlocutory basis.

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