ACLU: lawsuit over Va.’s mask-optional law ‘blueprint’ for parents of immunocompromised students

As a legal battle over a law in Virginia that makes masking optional for school children continues to brew, one of the plaintiffs in the case said developments so far in the courtroom can serve as a “blueprint” for parents of students at high risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19.

Eden Heilman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said that while a temporary injunction in the case only pertains to the 12 families named in the lawsuit, parents of immunocompromised children should not be deterred from asking for accommodations from their children’s school.

“The lawsuit and the order by the judge provide a blueprint for parents to advocate for their children, and, you know, approach their school system about specific accommodations for their children,” Heilman said.

In the case going through the courts, the ACLU, among other arguments, claims the law violates the rights of students under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The state, in court filings, claimed that students with disabilities can request accommodations under federal law and accused the plaintiffs choosing to sue the state instead of requesting accommodations.

For parents whose children have medical documentation showing they have a disability that puts them at higher risk, Heilman said they should gather that documentation and sit down with school administrators.

“Be very clear with the school about what the needs of your child are, you suggest what an appropriate accommodation may be, you provide medical documentation,” Heilman said.

Heilman said the school should work with parents on developing a plan and that the state law shouldn’t prevent accommodations from being made.

“So if it is, for example, that you need to have certain people near your child masked, it is helpful to provide that medical documentation showing from the child’s doctor where that is an appropriate accommodation for that child,” Heilman said.

Heilman said also, get in writing any agreement on accommodations made with the school. The discussion can take place over email, but according to Heilman, going to the school in person and leaving with a signed document is best.

“That’s the most important thing because if the school ultimately denies your request, especially if they deny your request because of the state law that allows parents to not mask their kids, then that potentially gives the the parent a blueprint if they would need to go to court on this issue,” Heilman said.

As for parents who want others around their child masked but do not have medical documentation that shows they are at high risk for COVID-19, Heilman said getting accommodations for them would be hard.

“The law is pretty specific about who it protects, and the disability rights laws protect people who have a recognized disability that limits one of their major life activities,” Heilman said.

Heilman encouraged any parents with concerns or questions about what they can do to reach out to the ACLU of Virginia.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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