Shannon Jensen was careful to ensure that her sons wore masks in school when classes resumed in September. No other parents in Waukesha, Wisconsin. And three weeks after school opened, Jensen’s oldest son, who was sitting next to an unmasked classmate who had COVID-19 symptoms, contracted the virus.
Soon another of their boys had tested positive, according to a lawsuit that marked a new turn in the ongoing battle over what schools should do to protect children from the coronavirus. While parents across the country have filed lawsuits against states and school districts to protest mask mandates, Jensen, with the assistance of a local beer maker, is suing all Wisconsin school districts to require masks and other classroom security measures.
Their October 6 lawsuit is one of two funded by Minocqua Brewing Company’s Super PAC over the handling – or alleged mishandling – of face-to-face learning by schools during the pandemic. Kirk Bangstad, who owns the brewery and ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat against a Republican incumbent in the Wisconsin State Assembly last year, calls it “the boldest project we have ever undertaken.”
“We’re not looking for damage. We’re looking for a judge who will basically issue an injunction against school districts that fail to follow CDC’s guidelines for masking, social distancing, contact tracing, and quarantine in schools, ”said Bangstad, who has more than $ 50,000 on the Super-PAC has collected to fund the lawsuits. “We’re not looking for money.”
The legal battle is brewing
Bangstad launched its Super-PAC in January, but before that the political leanings of its brewery were clear. It has a “Biden Beer” (marketed as “insulting and not bitter”), a “Bernie Brew” and a hefty beer in honor of Vice President Kamala Harris, described as “the strongest beer we could make”.
“We’d love to see many more progressive organizations and politicians join us on the battlefield against these wild-eyed, regressive school authorities.”Both lawsuits accuse plaintiffs’ local school districts of “ruthlessly refusing to implement sensible and scientifically-backed COVID-19 containment strategies,” claiming they have failed in their duty to protect students and “put students in a COVID-19 -Snake Pit Thrown ”. “Bangstad is seeking class action status for the lawsuits, with the aim of forcing every school district in the state to obey.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Policies. (The CDC recommends that all students and staff in school wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, and recently published two studies showing that non-masked schools are more likely to have virus outbreaks than masked schools.) More than 850,000 Students attend the state public K-12 schools.
Bangstad’s advocacy began when he closed his brewery in September 2020 due to business challenges during the pandemic and turned to selling beer. “I started a super PAC as part of that shoot with the aim of raising money to make Wisconsin more progressive so we’d never have to face Donald Trump again,” he says.
Despite having no children of his own, he recently turned to the “swift and furious onslaught” of conservative protests against school authorities across the country and in his own state.
“We would like to see many more progressive organizations and politicians join us on the battlefield against these wild-eyed, regressive school boards,” Bangstad wrote on a blog Post about the lawsuits, Encourage others to sue their local school board if their children become infected with COVID-19, or organize a recall of school board members who speak out against masking requirements.
“Outbreak in the classroom”
Jensen, whose sons are attending Rose Glen Elementary School, personally sent their children to school last year when the school district called for masks, temperature controls, and contact tracing. Those rules were lifted this school year, according to a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. School started on September 1, and Jensen says in the lawsuit that her sons all wore masks to school. On September 17, the lawsuit said, a child in her eldest son’s classroom who was not wearing a mask was sent home with symptoms of COVID-19. Two days later, Jensen’s son tested positive for the virus and missed six days of school with no virtual learning option while Jensen quarantined him, apart from his brothers, in the basement of his home.
According to their legal statement included in the lawsuit, four students tested positive for COVID-19 in their oldest child’s classroom and one of their other sons also contracted the virus.
“First and foremost, I hear a lot of frustration that school authorities and school districts are not taking sensible steps to protect students.”“Apparently there was an outbreak in the classroom and a significant delay in notifying parents,” Jensen said. “The Waukesha School District’s refusal to implement sensible strategies to contain COVID-19 did not just affect our immediate family’s possible further spread of the virus into the community.”
James Sebert, director of the Waukesha schools, and Joseph Como, president of the Waukesha Board of Education, declined to comment.
The second lawsuit was filed Monday in the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin by Gina Kildahl, whose son is attending Fall Creek Elementary School in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. Two of his classmates tested positive for COVID-19, at least one of whom did not wear a mask to school, and Kildahl’s son tested positive days later on September 27, according to the lawsuit. Kildahl decided to quarantine him and he missed two weeks of school. Fall Creek school district and education committee heads did not respond to requests for comment.
Frederick Melms, an attorney who represents Jensen and Kildahl, says he has heard from parents in other states who are interested in taking similar legal action. “What I hear primarily is a lot of frustration that school authorities and school districts are not taking reasonable steps to protect students,” he says.
On social media, some have criticized Bangstad for using his Super-PAC to participate in local school debates and accusing him of using the litigation to promote his own beer. But he says it didn’t bother him: “If my beer sells well because I’m committed to keeping children healthy, then damn it.”
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