Court Rules Masks Are Not Restraints

This summer, Drummond Woodsum attorneys James O’Shaughnessy and Demetrio Aspiras successfully defended a New Hampshire school district’s mask mandate against a claim that it violated the state’s prohibition of physical restraint in schools. The Hillsborough Superior Court (Southern District) recently issued an order granting the school district’s motion to dismiss the parents’ claim and warning attorneys to refrain from presenting inaccurate and outdated information regarding face masks.

In this case, four sets of parents filed an action against a New Hampshire school district alleging its mask mandate violated a state statute prohibiting the use of “dangerous restraint techniques” in schools. Specifically, the parents claimed that requiring students to wear face masks qualified as a use of “physical restraint” or “containment technique” by (1) impairing respiratory capacity; (2) covering the child’s face or body with anything, including soft objects such as blankets; and (3) endangering the child’s life or significantly exacerbating his/her medical condition.

The Court readily disagreed with the parents’ claim, explaining that, “by its plain language, all the prohibitions listed in [state restraint and seclusion law] only apply to a school’s use of a ‘physical restraint’ or a ‘containment technique.’” Such “physical restraint” occurs only when “the restraining person uses his or her own hands or body . . . to effectuate the restraint.” “Clearly,” the Court declared, “the mask mandates do not require school staff to use their own hands or bodies to force the [parents’] children to wear marks.”

Furthermore, the Court found that a “containment technique” “implies some sort of established process or known method used by school officials to physically restrain an individual[,]” and as such, “does not include a policy that requires students to wear a piece of fabric – here a face mask.” The Court added that if it were to agree that mask mandates were containment techniques, “then science teachers could not require students to wear masks during chemical experiments, gym teachers could not require students to use helmets protecting their mouths, and, taken to the extreme, schools could not even require students to wear any clothing at all.”

In closing, the Court noted the parents’ attorneys fell short of their professional obligations by filing such a complaint; posturing to sanction any future attempts at equating life-saving face coverings to dangerous restraint techniques.