Teacher's lawsuit says Georgia officials' coronavirus policies put students and staff at risk

Oct. 8, 2020
Lawsuit says lax state and local standards have exposed staff, students and families in Paulding County to risk of infection from the Covid-19 virus.

A lawsuit by a teacher in the Paulding County (Ga.) district is challenging the way that Gov. Brian Kemp, State School Superintendent Richard Woods and the local school board have handled the coronavirus.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the lawsuit argues that lax state and local standards have exposed staff, students, families and the Paulding County community to risk of infection from the Covid-19 virus.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the State Defendants have steadfastly refused to issue meaningful, binding requirements for school districts concerning how they are expected to operate during the pandemic,” says the lawsuit.

The 39-page lawsuit wants a judge to order schools to put precautions into place and follow standards “reasonably calculated” to ensure safety.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is an anonymous Paulding school employee described as a longtime teacher. She is referred to only by her initials M.J. because she fears retaliation by the school district, the suit says. She lives with a parent, nearly 80, who has a lung disease that enhances the risk of consequences of COVID-19.

The teacher also has a child attending the school system who has asthma and severe allergies.

Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, says as far as she knew it was one of the first lawsuits of its kind in the nation, likely because Georgia was among the earliest states to return to school for the fall semester.

The governor’s office declined to comment on the suit.

Kemp on Wednesday pointed to declining case counts, saying Georgians had “stepped up to the plate” in responding to the coronavirus.

Georgia’s seven-day rolling average of new cases is about double what it was at the low point at the end of May, a month after Kemp relaxed shelter-in-place orders, and the death rate reported during the seven days that ended last Friday was above the national average, according to the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The Paulding County district made international news in August after students posted photographs on social media showing hallways crowded with students, few of them wearing masks. Public health officials have consistently said that masks are a key tool in combating the spread of the virus.

The lawsuit says the Paulding district doesn’t require masks and, according to the plaintiffs, few wear them at school.

The state superintendent’s office says Woods has encouraged schools to mandate masks and notes that they are not obliged to offer in-person classes.

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