PARKER, Colo. (CBS4) - Some parents are suing Tri-County Health Department over its mask mandate. At issue is whether teachers and administrators can be arrested, charged and prosecuted, not only if they don't wear masks themselves in school, but if their students don't wear masks.
The superintendent of Littleton Public Schools told the school board last week they could be held criminally liable for not enforcing the mask mandate.
Tri-County Health says if educators don't enforce the mandate, it's a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and $5,000 fine.
"I'm not an anti-masker. I support anything that we can do. What I am against is abusing the power of teachers against their will, against the will of the children and against the will of people," said Tara Kohl, whose son is a 3rd grader at Pine Grove Elementary School in Parker.
She's among some 10 parents suing Tri-County Health after, she says, teachers at her son's school refused to let him inside unless he wore a mask.
"There was about 30 kids lined up behind him. His friends, our neighbors, people he cares about. He was humiliated in front all of them. My son was cowering in the corner in tears, covering his face," said Kohl.
Kohl says Tri-County Health is to blame for what she calls a culture of fear and intimidation. It's public health order, she says, has turned teachers into law enforcers.
"I do not expect teachers and principals to put their jobs on the line for something like this. It's totally inappropriate."
Attorney George Brauchler says it's also illegal. He's filing suit on behalf of the parents.
"The idea that we're going to convert parents and teachers into enforcers of this order at the risk of their own liberty, that's not American. We are now threatening people with the strongest powers government has, to lock you up and take away your liberty, to get them to comply."
Tri-County Health allows a medical exemption to the mask mandate, with a doctor's note, but Kohl says her son doesn't have a medical condition, he has trouble breathing and gets bloody noses when wearing a mask. She says the real issue is whether teachers should be forcing him, and in some cases she says shaming him, to wear a mask.
"I think we need to stand up now when it's about masks and when all agree teachers shouldn't be the ones in the line of fire in this scenario."
John Kellner, the 18th Judicial District Attorney, says there is the potential for criminal charges but his office has not received any referrals for prosecution so far.
"As with any case, we can only review each potential case on the merits and evaluate whether we can and should prove every element of any potential charge beyond a reasonable doubt before charges are filed."
UPDATE: Following the publication of this article on Sept. 13, Tri-County Health Department provided the following statement about this report:
Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) works with the school districts to get voluntary compliance rather than reaching out to individual teachers or classrooms. TCHD provides education and support in an effort to obtain voluntary compliance. We appreciate all that teachers do and are doing to help preserve in-person learning for students. While the law does set penalties for public health order violations, schools have been successfully implementing the mask order with the shared goal of keeping children safe and in school.
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