Parties settle lawsuit on school mask mandate with public hearings to be held on efficacy

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PROVIDENCE – In news described as a win by the group of parents and advocates who challenged the mandate, the parties in Southwell v McKee have reportedly reached a settlement to litigation over masking in Rhode Island Public Schools.

The suit, brought by some three dozen parents led by Richard Southwell of Glocester, began in 2021 following Gov. Dan McKee’s order in August of that year that every student, teacher, staff member or visitor entering any K-12 school building in the state wear a mask. Families from Glocester, Smithfield, Warwick and North Smithfield signed on as plaintiffs, suing the governor and Rhode Island Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, asserting that the state officials lacked constitutional authority to enforce the order.

Attorney Gregory Piccirilli represented the parents in the case, stating that the mandate was not based on scientific evidence – and caused harm to the children it affected.

On Tuesday, Dec. 12, an agreement was reportedly reached in a private conference between the parties with Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Lanphear.

While NRI NOW has not yet obtained documents related to the settlement – and Piccirilli did not immediately respond to a request for comment – it was clear this week that the plaintiffs, including Glocester mother Laurie Gaddis Barrett, were celebrating the legal outcome.

“After months of tedious legal wrangling over the parents’ discovery demands, the state has agreed to hold public hearings on the efficacy of masking, among other things,” noted Gaddis Barrett in a post on social media. “This is notable because to our knowledge, this is the first time there will be a public regulatory process in the costs/risks vs benefits of masking in K-12.”

Gaddis Barrett said the hearings are expected to be held in late winter/early spring, and will require state officials to actually prove that masking children does more good than harm.

“This means the parents get to submit their own experts and the state will have to defeat them before they ever order another mask on a child again,” Gaddis Barrett noted. “Our parents are confident that when the hearing is held, we will be able to show beyond any reasonable doubt that masking children causes irreparable harm.”

NRI NOW will update this breaking news story as more information becomes available.

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