None of the school districts have formally responded to the lawsuit, and more lawsuits are expected.By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A local state representative and a group of parents have sued four school districts in Westmoreland County over their masking policies.

Parents say it’s up to them, not the government, to dictate whether their children wear masks in school

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Sixteen states, including Pennsylvania, have mandates that require children to wear masks in school. Eight states ban such mandates, and most states have no policies at all.

Twenty parents, including Pennsylvania Rep. Eric Nelson, a Hempfield Republican, have sued four school districts — Hempfield Area, Norwin, Penn-Trafford, and Kiski Area. They have asked Westmoreland County Judge Harry Smails to stop the schools from requiring masks as a violation of constitutional rights.

Nelson, who has children in the Hempfield Area School District, said each of these districts originally gave parents and kids an option not to wear masks but were compelled to make masks mandatory by an order from the state’s Secretary of Health.

“We’re raising the question, if there is a health mandate, there should be a religious and moral exemption included with it,” Nelson told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.

“And parents, if a medical device is going to be required by the government for a child, the parents also have a say whether they want that child to have that device or not in exchange for in-person education,” he added.

The parents object to an appointed official overruling elected officials.

“If we allow an appointed government official to overrule and personally threaten duly elected school board members, what is the next step? It is an extremely slippery slope,” Nelson said. “We are seeking a court judgment because, unfortunately, each of these districts has been forced to reverse their current policies of mask optional, and that is directly the result of threats.”

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Valerie Walker, a Hempfield resident with two school-age kids, joined the lawsuit.

“I can be a voice for so many of those parents to give rights back to parents to make medical and educational decisions for their children,” Walker said.

But Dr. Denise Johnson, the state’s acting Physician General, says the mask mandate in this state and 15 other states has reduced COVID-19 cases in school.

Delano: Do you believe that Pennsylvania children are better off because of that mandate?

Johnson: I believe that we’ve seen some quarantining and some school closures, but not very many. We really have had our kids in school, and that was our primary goal.

Walker is homeschooling this year, saying masking had a negative impact on her kids last year in school.

“What it did to their personalities, what it did to their vision. They needed glasses. They suffered from constant headaches. My daughter suffered from anxiety. She was always very, very nervous that year in school, which was completely unlike herself,” Walker said.

None of the school districts have formally responded to the lawsuit, and more lawsuits are expected.

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Jim Welsh, the attorney representing these plaintiffs, told KDKA that he just filed a similar lawsuit against River Valley School District in Blairsville.