Parents sue Merrimack Valley School District over mask mandate

  • Merrimack Valley High School transitioned from the 'Indians' to the 'Pride' nearly two decades ago. The new logo depicts a lion and a lioness, maws open in a roar.

Monitor staff
Published: 9/18/2021 5:33:05 PM

A group of 17 parents are suing the Merrimack Valley School District on behalf of their children over its policy requiring students to wear face masks in school. 

The group, represented by attorney Robert Fojo, are claiming that the mask mandate violates the right of parents to make medical decisions for their children and that the district doesn’t have the authority to make mask policies, since that power hasn’t been expressly granted by the state legislature. The plaintiffs filed their complaint Sept. 3, and the district was served with legal papers on Tuesday.

“Our concern is the school board overstepping with parents’ rights and whether they decide to have their kid go with a mask or not with a mask, it should be up to the parent for sure,” said Jen Lacasse of Boscawen, one of the plaintiffs in the case and the parent of two students at Merrimack Valley High School.

Lacasse, who is a mental health counselor, said she’s passionate about the issue because she has seen an increase in mental health concerns among her school-age clients and believes masks are exacerbating the issue.

“I work with kids every day, and they are really struggling based on this past year,” Lacasse said. “Kids are feeling it’s like this threatening atmosphere they’re going to school in. I don’t think people are understanding the ramifications mental health-wise, down the road.”

The parents are also arguing that mandatory masks constitute “illegal restraint” under a state law that limits the use of child restraint practices in schools, including physical restraint or containment that “involves covering the face or body with anything, including soft objects such as pillows, blankets, or washcloths.”

“The schools can’t confine children; they don’t have the authority to do that,” said Eric Corliss of Loudon, another plaintiff and parent of four children who attend the high school, middle school and Loudon Elementary. “They cannot put masks on the children. We feel that the school is violating their authority by doing this.”

The plaintiffs also filed a motion to immediately suspend the mask mandate, but that was denied by Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman on Sept. 3.

“The school district has the right and the responsibility to keep its students and staff safe,” Shulman wrote. “Masking keeps other students and faculty safe, as well as the wearer. Masks are not medicine, and requiring this simple expedient does not, in the slightest, interfere with any parental rights. Period.”

Merrimack Valley School District officials declined to comment for this article.

Lacasse said she and the other parents began discussing their concerns Aug. 25 at a gathering she organized at Rolfe Park and they managed to generate over 400 signatures on an online petition asking the school district to drop the mask policy. Lacasse said when she and the other parents didn’t hear back from the district regarding their petition, some of them decided to take legal action. They found attorney Fojo because of his involvement with similar cases.

The lawsuit against Merrimack Valley School District’s mask policy is one of several ongoing in New Hampshire. Parents in the Epping, Londonderry and Timberlane school districts are also suing districts over mask policies, and are also represented by Fojo. Similar mask challenges have been filed in Exeter, Stratham, Newfields, Brentwood, Kensington and East Kingston. Two other similar lawsuits have been dismissed.

The plaintiffs in the case against Merrimack Valley High School are Eric and Amy Corliss of Loudon, Jen and Gerry Lacasse of Boscawen, Jonathan and Sammantha Rose of Loudon, Jamie Turgeon of Penacook, Alicha and Michael Kingsbury of Loudon, TereseGrinell of Loudon, Michael and Christine Longver of Loudon, Dave and Erin Fortier of Loudon, Joseph and Jennifer Jackson of Loudon and Joel Eugnides of Salisbury.

“I know my kids. Every parent knows their kids, we know what’s best for our kids,” Eric Corliss said. “If I choose to have my child masked at school, I want to be able to make that decision. I don’t think it’s the school district’s authority to make that decision. I believe their only purpose is to provide our kids with an education and I believe they are overstepping their authority in making this happen.”

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy