With Help From a Beer Maker, There’s a New Front Opening in the Battle Over School Masks

Shannon Jensen was diligent in making sure her children wore masks to school when classes resumed in September. Other parents in Waukesha, Wisconsin, weren’t. And three weeks after classes opened, Jensen’s eldest son, who was sitting next to an unmasked classmate who had symptoms of COVID-19, contracted the virus.

Soon, another of her children had tested positive, according to a lawsuit that marks a new turn in the ongoing battle on what schools should do to protect children from coronavirus. While parents across the country have filed lawsuits against states and school districts to protest the mask mandates, Jensen, with the backing of a local brewer, is suing to force all Wisconsin school districts to demand masks and other safety measures in classrooms.
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Their lawsuit, filed Oct. 6, is one of two funded by Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC for schools’ management – or alleged mismanagement – of in-person learning during the pandemic. Kirk Bangstad, the brewery owner who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat against a Republican in the Wisconsin State Assembly last year, calls this “the most audacious project we have ever undertaken.”

“We do not seek damages. We are looking for a judge who will basically impose an injunction on school districts that do not follow the CDC guidelines for masking, social distancing, contact tracing and quarantine in schools, ”says Bangstad, who has raised more than $ 50,000 through the super PAC. to finance the lawsuits. “We are not looking for money.”

Courtesy of Kirk BangstadKirk Bangstad, whose Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC supports lawsuits demanding that schools require masks to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The legal battle that is brewing

Bangstad launched its super PAC in January, but before that, the political leanings of its brewery were clear. It has offered a “Biden Beer” (marketed as “harmless and not bitter”), a “Bernie Brew” and a strong beer honoring Vice President Kamala Harris, described as “the strongest beer we could make.”

“We would like many more progressive organizations and politicians to join us in the battle against these wild-eyed regressive school boards.” Both lawsuits accuse the plaintiffs’ local school districts of “recklessly refusing to implement reasonable and scientifically supported COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” alleging that they failed in their duty to keep students safe and “dumped the students. into a ‘snake pit’ of COVID-19. ”Bangstad is seeking class action status for the lawsuits, with the goal of compelling all school districts in the state to follow Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC recommends that all students and staff wear masks at school, regardless of vaccination status, and recently published two studies showing that schools without mask requirements were more likely to have virus outbreaks than schools with requirements mask). More than 850,000 students attend the K-12 public schools in the state.

Bangstad’s defense began when it closed its brewery in September 2020 due to business challenges during the pandemic and switched to selling beer. “I started a super PAC as part of that twist, with the goal of raising money to make Wisconsin more progressive, so that we never have to face a Donald Trump again,” he says.

While he has no children of his own, he recently turned his attention to the “fast and furious attack” of conservative protests against school boards across the country and in your 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 the local school board if their children contract COVID-19, or organize a recall of school board members who oppose the mask mandates.

Florida mask protest
Paul Hennessy – SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images A protester in front of the Volusia County School Board in Deland, Florida on September 14, 2021. The school board voted 3-2 to modify its mask mandate to allow parents to choose not to meet the requirement for their sons.

‘Sprout in the classroom’

Jensen, whose children attend Rose Glen Elementary School, sent his children to school in person last year when the school district required masking, temperature checks and contact tracing. Those rules were lifted this school year, according to the lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. School started on September 1, and Jensen says in the lawsuit that all of his children wore masks to school. On September 17, the lawsuit says, a girl in her oldest son’s classroom who had not been 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 without a virtual learning option while Jensen quarantined him at his basement home, apart from his siblings.

According to her legal statement included in the lawsuit, four students in her oldest son’s classroom tested positive for COVID-19, and one of her other children also contracted the virus.

“Mostly I hear a lot of frustration that school boards and school districts are not taking reasonable enough steps to protect students.” “It seemed like there was an outbreak in the classroom and a substantial delay in notifications sent to parents,” Jensen said. “The Waukesha School District’s refusal to implement reasonable COVID-19 mitigation strategies, not only affected our immediate family, but if we had been notified prior to my oldest son’s close contact with someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19 , we could have prevented the possible further community spread of the virus. “

Waukesha Schools Superintendent James Sebert and Waukesha Board of Education President Joseph Como 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 attends 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 at school, and Kildahl’s son tested positive days later, on Sept. 27, according to the lawsuit. Kildahl decided to quarantine him and missed two weeks of school. Leaders from the Fall Creek school district and the board of education did not respond to requests for comment.

Frederick Melms, an attorney representing Jensen and Kildahl, says he has heard from parents in other states who are interested in taking similar legal action. “Mostly I hear a lot of frustration that school boards and school districts are not taking reasonable enough steps to protect students,” he says.

On social media, some have criticized Bangstad for using its super PAC to engage in local school debates and accused it of using the litigation to promote its own beer. But he says it hasn’t bothered him: “If my beer sells well because I’m advocating to help keep kids healthy, then fuck yeah.”

 

 

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