A federal judge has tossed a lawsuit against the Cherry Creek School District over its now-rescinded mask-wearing policy, finding the allegations backed by dubious scientific assertions were not viable legal claims.
The controversy stemmed from the district's compliance with an Aug. 31, 2021 public health order for Arapahoe County that required people to cover their faces inside schools. At the time, young children were ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and the contagious delta variant was of concern to public health officials.
In response, Dustin Jared Casady, a parent of two children in the school district, filed a federal lawsuit and was later joined by Matthew Ghormley and Ghormley's child. Both men represented themselves and their children in the case. They lodged 19 different claims against Cherry Creek, ranging from "emotional abuse" and "criminal extortion" to violations of religious freedom and "inalienable rights."
"This is a case of government over reach resulting in the inalienable, Constitutional Rights of the Plaintiffs being abused under the guise of a public health emergency," the men wrote in their lawsuit. The plaintiffs specifically alleged the mask policy had prompted them to homeschool their children and to change their own employment to accommodate the homeschooling schedule.
The lawsuit cast doubt on the effectiveness of masks, which evidence shows are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19. The complaint falsely claimed masks cause irreparable injury due to an "increase in carbon dioxide," and also alleged that wearing masks leads to a 334% increase in suicidal ideation among teenagers — a misrepresentation of a 2021 study about the pandemic's effect on youth mental health.
Multiple parents also submitted statements to the court in support of the lawsuit.
"My tax dollars are being used to harm the children in my school district both physically and psychologically against my wishes," wrote Jessica King of Aurora.
"I (have) been required to engage in a medical system, which has no basis in fact or science, that is being forced upon my community," added Jana Sloan of Centennial.
Casady eventually asked to withdraw from the lawsuit, leaving Ghormley and his child as the only plaintiffs. The Cherry Creek defendants, which included the school board and the superintendent, moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing Ghormley could not, as a non-attorney representing himself, also represent his child in court. The defendants also noted the policy being challenged was no longer in effect and, while it was, the school board was obligated to follow the public health order for the county.
"Moreover, seeking to protect the health and well-being of students and staff does not state a conspiracy to commit unlawful acts and deprive persons of equal protections or privileges and immunities under the law," wrote attorney Jonathan P. Fero.
In June, then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Nina Y. Wang reviewed the case and recommended dismissing Ghormley's lawsuit. She agreed with Cherry Creek that all of the claims related to Ghormley's child could not proceed, as self-represented litigants are almost never permitted to represent their children in federal court.
As for Ghormley's claims on his own behalf, Wang found Ghormley had not suffered direct harm from the district's mask policy.
"These allegations indicate that Mr. Ghormley’s purported injuries were caused by his decision to homeschool his child, and not by the District’s mask mandate," she wrote.
Wang also addressed Cherry Creek's request to sanction Ghormley for pursuing his "exotic, scattershot, bizarre, and abstract" claims when it was allegedly clear he would not succeed in court. Wang declined to do so, noting Ghormley's actions had not met the definition of "frivolous."
Still, she cautioned, if Ghormley kept trying to improperly litigate on behalf of his child, there could be consequences.
None of the parties objected to Wang's recommendation. On Aug. 4, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Christine M. Arguello signed off on the recommendation and dismissed the lawsuit.