Laramie teen arrested for refusing mask mandates sues school district

August 24, 2023 in News by RBN Staff


Source: Wyoming News



Nearly two years after being arrested and escorted off the Laramie High School premises, Grace Smith and her parents Andy and Erin Smith filed a complaint on Aug. 8 with District Court of Albany County to sue Albany County School District 1.

The complaint alleges that Grace Smith’s First Amendment rights were violated and that the ACSD1 Board of Trustees at that time exceeded their delegation of power over the implementation and enforcement of mask mandates in the fall of 2021.

The complaint names eight defendants who were in their ASCD1 positions at the time in their individual and official capacities, including Janice Marshall in her capacity as board chairman, Nate Martin, Kim Sorenson, Emily Siegel-Stanton, Beth Bear, and Lawrence Parea as trustees, as well as Dr. Jubal Yennie as superintendent of ACSD1 and Jeff Lewis as principal of LHS.

The 38-page complaint establishes six claims for relief, detailing how the plaintiffs believe the school board made health-related decisions outside of its jurisdiction and violated Grace Smith’s (referred to as G.S. in the document) First Amendment rights as well as her and her parents’ right to due process.

It also claims the defendants’ actions were ultra vires in creating and implementing mask mandates for students.

ACSD1 does not comment about ongoing litigation.

School board decision

The complaint outlines the background of the school board’s implementation and carrying out of the mandate from before the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year on Aug. 4. During the board meeting on this day, the complaint states that Superintendent Yennie originally wanted to “provide choice for parents and students regarding masking as there are no public health orders (“PHOs”) in place at either the state or local level.”

It goes on to add that Yennie also stated he would not recommend a mask mandate unless a PHO required one for the district. This same sentiment was reiterated during the Aug. 11 meeting, but not the 23rd, according to the complaint.

The document states that at the special session meeting on the 23rd, Yennie requested the ACSD1 Board to implement a mask mandate on K-8 while indoors to last one week until Sept. 3, despite a lack of PHOs from state and county health officials enacting mask mandates. The complaint goes on to state that the mandate still passed with the plan later being expanded to last until Oct. 15 as part of Yennie’s COVID-19 mitigation plan.

It further alleges that Yennie “acknowledged that he had no authority to implement PHOs, as he was not a public health official,” but claimed he stated “that he must act since those with lawful authority to promulgate PHOs refused to do their job.”

It adds that without the authority to implement PHO’s, “the mask mandate was akin to pure speech.”

Following the beginning of the school year on Sept. 9, 2021, the document states that Chairman Marshall requested that Gov. Mark Gordon validate the board’s decision to promulgate PHOs. The complaint adds this process was happening at the same time that the high school had already begun enforcing the mandate and “forcing students to leave school for refusing to comply with the ACSD Board’s Mask Mandate.”

Gordon later responded to the request by asking for an opinion from the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office. The complaint states that upon information and belief, the Attorney General’s Office never issued the opinion.

Fall 2021

Grace Smith began her junior year on Aug. 26, 2021. The complaint states she was a straight-A student involved in multiple extracurriculars but was one of about 20 students who were told to leave LHS for “consciously objecting to the new compelled speech policy.”

After leaving the building, Grace Smith stood out in front of the high school with two signs, one reading “no more masks” and the other “join our peaceful protest.” That night, she shared with other students that a nationwide walkout would take place the following day to protest mask mandates.

The complaint goes on to describe communications between the plaintiffs and school board, quoting Yennie as describing one meeting with the family as “not good.”

According to the complaint, Grace Smith was suspended on Sept. 30 for two days for “‘open defiance of the authority of the ACSD #1 Board of Trustees requirement for indoor mask use.’” Upon returning to school and continuing to refuse to wear a mask, Grace Smith was issued another two-day suspension.

When she refused to leave the school premises, Grace received a $500 citation for trespassing. Upon a third two-day suspension, another $500 citation was issued, and Grace Smith was handcuffed and arrested while the school was put under lockdown. On Oct. 13, she formally withdrew from LHS.

Claims for relief

The complaint lists six claims for relief, including Deprivation of First Amendment Rights Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Violation of First Amendment — Retaliation of Speech Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Violation of Fourteenth Amendment — Due Process Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Due Process– Parents’ Fundamental Right to Care for their Children Violation of Art. 1 § 38 and W.S. § 14-2-206 (a); Ultra Vires; and Declaratory Relief W.S. § 35-1-310 Violates the Wyoming Constitution.

For the first claim, the plaintiffs argue the defendants violated Grace’s right to free speech. The complaint alleges that “the mask mandate was an utterance and the Defendants compelled G.S. ‘to utter what [wa]s not in h[er] mind.’ Barnette, 319 U.S. at 634.”

It adds that it was Grace Smith’s right to object to this “compelled speech,” but the defendants were “motivated by the speculative possibility of future disorder if G.S.’s symbolic expression of freedom was not suppressed and ultimately censored.”

Similarly, the second claim states that Grace Smith suffered retaliation of speech. The document states that not every student who refused to wear a mask was disciplined through suspension or arrest by the defendants. Rather, it argues that the “defendants targeted the most vocal opponent of Defendants’ compelled speech, G.S., who was singled out and targeted for suspension and arrest.”

The third claim asserts that the plaintiffs’ right to due process was violated through the promulgation and enforcement of the mandate, citing that Grace Smith was deprived of “protected property interests, including, but not limited to, education, body autonomy, medical decision making, and to be afforded protection offered under the Wyoming Administrative Procedures and Policy 1009.”

It adds that Grace Smith has and will continue to suffer from deprivation of educational opportunities over the issue.

The fourth claim also cites a violation of due process for parents Erin and Andy Smith. The complaint states that the plaintiffs have a fundamental right to make and refuse medical and healthcare decisions for their child, and claims the defendants acted with disregard to that right.

The fifth claim states that the defendants “knowingly and unlawfully usurped express powers delegated to public health officials when they promulgated and enforced the Mask Mandate.” It also states that “nothing in the statutory and regulatory framework concerning communicable disease provides Defendants with the authority to exercise control over G.S. and restrict her from school for not wearing a mask.”

The sixth claim requests that the court declare W.S. § 35-1-310 is unconstitutional for several reasons, including that it “contradicts the public health statutory scheme.”