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Menomonie parents take legal action on school district’s COVID policies

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School District of the Menomonie Area

MENOMONIE (WQOW) - Parents of a Menomonie elementary student with Down Syndrome say the school district is not providing their daughter a safe environment to learn in-person.

That's why they filed for a formal hearing with the district to discuss its COVID-19 policies.

The parents of the child say they want their daughter to go to school in-person, but not at the risk of her health.

"Their rights are being ignored so this is really about disability rights," said Thomas Pearson.

On October 1st, Thomas Pearson and his partner filed a request for a due process hearing with the School District of the Menomonie Area.

"It's really difficult to feel like your child is being discriminated against because members of a school board are unwilling to follow everyone's recommendations for how to keep kids safe," Pearson said.

Their six-year-old daughter Michaela is a first grader at Oaklawn Elementary School, but since the beginning of the school year, she's only been learning from home.

Pearson said his daughter has Down Syndrome, so she's more at risk for getting severely ill if she gets infected with COVID.

"It's a significant consequence for her education, but then also, my partner has taken an unpaid leave of absence to be home with her to try to oversee her schooling at home and it's not ideal. She's missing out on all those experiences that you get in-person and all the social and emotional development," Pearson said.

The district initially started the school year with a mask-optional policy, then, on September 27 through a narrow and contentious vote, the school board voted to make masks required for kindergarten through 6th grade.

"We don't have any faith that they're going to keep it in place.  That they won't change it from week to week," Pearson said.

Just three days later, a special meeting was announced to discuss modifying the masking policy again.

That meeting was scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 3, but it was canceled. 

The family's attorney Jeff Spitzer-Resnick with Systems Change Consulting in Madison says they filed the request under a state and federal special education law called IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

"Legally, the whole premise of this case is that Michaela is entitled to a free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. She shouldn't have to risk her life to do that," Spitzer-Resnick said.

Ultimately, the family's attorney says they'd like her school to follow what health experts recommend.

"To have everyone masked in the building, not just students, but also staff. To have staff vaccinated, to have appropriate social distancing and quarantining," Spitzer-Resnick said.

According to the family's attorney, the district is required to respond within 10 days of filing, which will be October 11th.

On November 3rd, a pre-hearing conference has been scheduled with a judge to likely discuss a hearing date, which he expects to be in December.

News 18 also reached out to district administrator Joseph Zydowsky who declined to comment.

We also contacted members of the school board who directed us to the board president, David Styer.

We've reached out to him multiple times and have not received a response at this time.

Email us your story ideas to news@wqow.com