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Orange County Board of Education members are moving to sue Gov. Gavin Newsom again, this time over the mask mandate for everyone at schools, regardless of their vaccination status.

In a late Tuesday news release, the board said the mandate lacks “sound medical or scientific basis for the Governor’s requirement to mask school children (who in general are neither at risk from COVID-19 nor likely to spread it)…” 

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The lawsuit shouldn’t cost the taxpayers any money this time, according to the news release, because the board “approved the retention of counsel on a pro bono basis to bring this legal challenge.” 

Last year, the board voted to recommend students return to classrooms without masks — stirring up national headlines. 

[Read: OC Board of Education Panel Calls for a Fall Return to Classes with No Masks or Distancing]

“Above all, the Board also recognizes the importance of keeping our children safe at school and free from policies or practices that will cause them harm. When necessary, the Board will fight to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our county’s kids at school,” reads the news release.

Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend everyone wear masks at schools, regardless of vaccination status.

While board members have pushed back against the idea of children wearing masks in schools, some local public health experts say it’s important students and staff keep them on. 

UC Irvine epidemiologist Sanghyuk Shin, a public health expert, said children can transmit COVID and wearing a mask helps prevent that — especially since kids younger than 12 can’t get the vaccines.

“I’m really concerned. I haven’t seen hard data yet, but the anecdotes that I’m getting from pediatricians and pediatric wards is that they’re being slammed right now in places throughout the U.S.,” Shin said in a Tuesday phone interview. “Kids coming in with severe disease and with symptoms they haven’t seen before.” 

He added that opening schools — without masks and other safety measures — at this time can add to a worsening virus situation.

A CDC study in Utah found that properly applied safety measures, like masking, curb virus transmission. 

“This investigation found low SARS-CoV-2 transmission and no school-related outbreaks in 20 Salt Lake County elementary schools with high student mask use and implementation of multiple strategies to limit transmission,” reads the study, which was released in March — before the onset of the Delta variant.

It adds, “Other U.S. studies have also detected minimal school-associated transmission when implementing strict mitigation measures, although testing was limited to symptomatic close contacts.”  

In an interview late last month, Shin’s colleague, epidemiologist Andrew Noymer, echoed similar concerns. 

“For the under 12s, it makes sense because those age groups are still not vaccinatable. For the older kids, it’s a very cautious move right now. But it may appear less cautious and more prudent as we learn more about how well the vaccine works in the face of the Delta variant.”

Orange County, along with the rest of Southern California, is seeing a surge in virus cases — all fueled by the Delta variant.

Many school districts have done online learning since the pandemic kicked off, with some others returning to classrooms sporadically. 

Now, most students throughout Orange County will be able return to classrooms for the first time since the pandemic began. 

It’s not the first time the board has been embroiled in a legal battle. 

Board members sued Newsom last year for blocking kids from going back to classrooms and mandating online learning. 

But the California Supreme Court ultimately denied the lawsuit from proceeding.

That lawsuit also was taken on a pro bono basis by outside attorneys.

[Read: OC Board of Education Petition to Resume In Person Learning Denied by State Supreme Court]

Over the past few years, the county Board of Education has also been in a lawsuit against the Orange County Department of Education to gain more control over the budgeting process. 

Legal costs began skyrocketing to millions of dollars because both bodies are typically represented by the same law firm. 

[Read: OC Board of Education and Department Ramp Up Taxpayer Spending On Internal Lawsuits]

Now, they have to find outside counsel for that lawsuit. 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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