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Parents Plan To Sue California Over School COVID Mandates: The Science Behind Their Fight

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Local parents are teaming up with a group from Southern California that successfully sued the state to reopen schools.

They're working on another lawsuit, this time to relax school testing and quarantine requirements - and to end school mask mandates.

"Parents are fed up and parents are now getting involved," said Karen Combest, a Placer County mom.

UPDATE: 'What's Changed Is The Delta Variant': Parents Sue State Over School Mask Mandates As Infectious Disease Experts Ask For Data-Based Mask Metric

"We're in a different stage of this pandemic, so we need to adjust," said Johnathan Zachreson, who started the Reopen California Schools Facebook group.

The group, which now has more than 14,000 members, is facing a new fight.

"Now we have the issues of quarantines, mask mandates," Zachreson said. "And asymptomatic testing that really is just hygiene theater."

ALSO READ: CBS13 Investigates Problems at California's COVID Testing Lab

Zachreson's group started raising money to sue the state, first over required asymptomatic testing and so-called "close-contact" quarantines that sent thousands of healthy students back home for weeks - many without even online instruction because they were in classrooms - fully masked - with a student who allegedly tested positive.

The parents point to known false positives from the state lab and kids who were quarantined even after repeatedly testing negative.

"Yet, they're still keeping them away and denying them their education," Zachreson said.

The state tells CBS13 that it didn't track how many - if any - of the quarantined kids ever actually tested positive.

ALSO READ: Are False Positives or Sensitive Tests Responsible For School COVID Spikes?

"I feel like this is bordering on child abuse," Combest said.

Fed up, the Northern California parents partnered with the Southern California group which successfully sued Governor Newsom, Health Secretary Ghaly and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to reopen schools.

They're now fighting school mask mandates. The two groups have jointly raised more than $40,000 to sue the state again.

"The lawsuit is empowering parents to take control," explained Michelle Peterson, a Roseville mom.

And they're getting support from the medical community.

"Sometimes we're having conversations like we're back in 2020, but we're not," said UCSF Infectious Disease Specialist Monica Gandhi.

Dr. Gandhi is one of many advocating to remove some COVID-19 restrictions for students. She points to data from Israel and the UK which shows vaccinating adults reduces transmission among unvaccinated kids - along with data from UtahDenmark and Norway which indicates little difference in transmission between unmasked and masked children.

"Which actually speaks to the fact that children are less likely to transmit, and also get, COVID-19," Dr. Gandhi said.

Many of Dr. Gandhi's recommendations are based on California's currently low positivity rate and relatively high vaccination rates. She says they don't necessarily apply elsewhere in the country.

According to the CDC, California's current positivity rate presents the lowest risk of transmission in schools. As a result, Dr. Gandhi points to data that shows asymptomatic testing at schools - especially using the state lab's PCR tests - is likely to increase false positives and unnecessary quarantines. She points to the statistical process called Bayes Theorem.

"As our prevalence goes down, then those tests are more likely to be false-positive - and now you've interrupted school and led to learning loss," Dr. Gandhi said.

ALSO READ: Delayed School COVID Results, Canceled Games and Contamination Concerns

The Rocklin Unified School District drafted a letter to the CDPH that calls on the state to end mask mandates and quarantine protocols. The Roseville Joint Union School District board voted to draft a similar letter to be approved by the board.

Dr. Gandhi says she's far more worried about learning loss and mental health than the risk of COVID-19 spread among kids at this point in the pandemic.

"[I would tell the CDPH] that the science does not show this is an effective strategy," Gandhi said.

It's a message the parents hope the CDPH hears - but they're still raising money for their lawsuit, just in case.

"Our hope is that we don't have to file the lawsuit and that CDPH does the right thing," Zachreson said. "History has shown that they haven't, and so that's why we're mobilizing and raising money."

The CDPH declined to comment, citing potential litigation. But they did point to their current guidance for face coverings, and this Q&A, which notes they're awaiting updated CDC guidance for schools.

UPDATE: 'What's Changed Is The Delta Variant': Parents Sue State Over School Mask Mandates As Infectious Disease Experts Ask For Data-Based Mask Metric

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