With Assist From a Beer Maker, There’s a New Entrance Opening within the Battle Over College Masks

Shannon Jensen was diligent about ensuring her sons wore masks to high school when lessons resumed in September. Different dad and mom in Waukesha, Wis., weren’t. And three weeks after faculty opened, Jensen’s eldest son, who was seated subsequent to an unmasked classmate who had COVID-19 signs, fell sick with the virus.

Quickly, one other of her boys had examined constructive, in keeping with a lawsuit that marks a brand new twist within the ongoing battle over what colleges needs to be doing to defend youngsters from the coronavirus. Whereas dad and mom throughout the nation have filed lawsuits towards states and college districts to protest masks mandates, Jensen, with backing from an area beer maker, is suing to pressure all of Wisconsin’s faculty districts to require masks and different security measures in school rooms.
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Her lawsuit, filed Oct. 6, is one in every of two being funded by the Minocqua Brewing Firm Tremendous PAC over colleges’ dealing with—or alleged mishandling—of in-person studying throughout the pandemic. Kirk Bangstad, who owns the brewery and who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat towards a Republican incumbent within the Wisconsin State Meeting final yr, calls this “the boldest mission we’ve ever taken on.”

“We’re not in search of damages. We’re in search of a decide to mainly place an injunction on faculty districts who aren’t following the CDC pointers for masking, social distancing, contact tracing and quarantining in colleges,” says Bangstad, who has raised greater than $50,000 via the tremendous PAC to fund the lawsuits. “We’re not in search of cash.”

Courtesy Kirk BangstadKirk Bangstad, whose Minocqua Brewing Firm Tremendous PAC is backing lawsuits demanding colleges require masks to stem the unfold of COVID-19.

The authorized battle brewing

Bangstad launched his tremendous PAC in January, however earlier than then, his brewery’s political leanings have been clear. It has supplied a “Biden Beer” (marketed as “inoffensive and never bitter”), a “Bernie Brew” and a stout honoring Vice President Kamala Harris, described as “the strongest beer we might make.”

<robust>“We’d wish to see much more progressive organizations and politicians be a part of us on the battlefield towards these wild-eyed regressive faculty boards.”</robust>Each lawsuits accuse the plaintiffs’ native faculty districts of “recklessly refusing to implement the affordable and scientifically supported COVID-19 mitigation methods,” alleging they failed an obligation to maintain college students protected and “threw college students right into a COVID-19 ‘snake pit.’” Bangstad is looking for class-action standing for the fits, aiming to pressure each faculty district within the state to comply with Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention pointers. (The CDC recommends that every one college students and workers put on masks in class, no matter vaccination standing, and lately revealed two research exhibiting that colleges with out masks necessities have been extra prone to have virus outbreaks than colleges with masks mandates.) Greater than 850,000 college students attend the state’s public Ok-12 colleges.

Bangstad’s advocacy started when he closed his brewpub in September 2020 due to enterprise challenges throughout the pandemic and pivoted to promoting beer. “I began a brilliant PAC as a part of that pivot, with the intention of elevating cash to make Wisconsin extra progressive, so we’d by no means need to face a Donald Trump once more,” he says.

Whereas he doesn’t have youngsters of his personal, he lately turned his consideration to the “quick and livid onslaught” of conservative protests towards faculty boards across the nation and in his personal state.

“We’d wish to see much more progressive organizations and politicians be a part of us on the battlefield towards these wild-eyed regressive faculty boards,” Bangstad wrote in a weblog put up concerning the lawsuits, encouraging others to sue their native faculty board if their youngsters contract COVID-19, or set up a recall of college board members who oppose masks mandates.

Florida mask protest
Paul Hennessy—SOPA Pictures/LightRocket/Getty Pictures A protester exterior the Volusia County College Board in Deland, Fla., on Sept. 14, 2021. The college board voted 3-2 to change its masks mandate to permit dad and mom to decide out of the requirement for his or her youngsters.

‘Outbreak within the classroom’

Jensen, whose sons attend Rose Glen Elementary College, despatched her youngsters to high school in particular person final yr when the college district required masking, temperature checks and call tracing. These guidelines have been lifted this faculty yr, in keeping with the lawsuit filed within the U.S. District Court docket for the Jap District of Wisconsin. College began on Sept. 1, and Jensen says within the lawsuit that her sons all wore masks to high school. On Sept. 17, the go well with says, a toddler in her eldest son’s classroom who had not been carrying a masks was despatched house with signs of COVID-19. Two days later, Jensen’s son examined constructive for the virus and missed six days of college with no digital studying possibility whereas Jensen quarantined him at house within the basement, aside from his brothers.

In keeping with her authorized declaration included with the lawsuit, 4 college students in her eldest baby’s classroom examined constructive for COVID-19, and one in every of her different sons additionally contracted the virus.

<robust>“I’m primarily listening to a number of frustration that college boards and college districts aren’t taking pretty affordable steps to guard college students.”</robust>“It appeared there was an outbreak within the classroom and a considerable delay in notifications going out to the dad and mom,” Jensen mentioned. “The College District of Waukesha’s refusal to implement affordable COVID-19 mitigation methods, not solely affected our quick household, but when we had been notified sooner of my oldest son’s shut contact with somebody who was recognized with COVID-19, we might have prevented potential additional neighborhood unfold of the virus.”

James Sebert, superintendent of Waukesha colleges, and Joseph Como, president of the Waukesha Board of Training, declined to remark.

The second lawsuit was filed Monday within the U.S. District Court docket for the Western District of Wisconsin by Gina Kildahl, whose son attends Fall Creek Elementary College in Fall Creek, Wis. Two of his classmates examined constructive for COVID-19, at the least one in every of whom didn’t put on a masks in class, and Kildahl’s son examined constructive days afterward Sept. 27, in keeping with the lawsuit. Kildahl selected to quarantine him, and he missed two weeks of college. Leaders of the Fall Creek faculty district and board of training didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Frederick Melms, an lawyer representing Jensen and Kildahl, says he’s heard from dad and mom in different states who’re concerned with taking related authorized motion. “I’m primarily listening to a number of frustration that college boards and college districts aren’t taking pretty affordable steps to guard college students,” he says.

On social media, some have criticized Bangstad for utilizing his tremendous PAC to become involved in native faculty debates and accused him of utilizing the litigation to advertise his personal beer. However he says it hasn’t bothered him: “If my beer sells properly as a result of I’m advocating to assist hold youngsters wholesome, then f-ck yeah.”



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