Wisconsin parent sues school district, says her son contracted COVID-19 from a classmate
A Wisconsin parent, with the help of a brewery in the state, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Waukesha School District and Waukesha School Board, saying her son got sick after being exposed to a classmate who had COVID-19 symptoms due to the district's lack of mitigation protocols.
Attorney Frederick Melms filed the lawsuit on Oct. 5 in the U.S. Eastern District of Wisconsin on behalf of Shannon Jensen and other parents and K-12 Waukesha School District students.
The lawsuit is the latest instance of parent frustration with how school boards have responded to the pandemic and yet another example of how school board meetings have increasingly become ground zero in politics.
The lawsuit, which is being funded by the Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC and argues for class-action status, is seeking an injunction ordering the district to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidelines.
According to the lawsuit, the Waukesha School Board on May 12 removed the mask requirement and many other COVID-19 mitigation measures that were in place for most of the 2020-21 school year. Despite that decision, Jensen's son, a student at Rose Glen Elementary School, and his two younger brothers wore masks to school while many of their classmates did not.
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One of Jensen's oldest son's classmates came to school with COVID-19 symptoms on Sept.16-17 before being sent home. Jensen's oldest son was seated next to the sick classmate both days and his sick classmate did not wear a mask.
On Sept. 19, Jensen's oldest son developed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19. Jensen then had all her sons quarantine at home. The younger two boys would later test positive for COVID-19 as well, and all of them missed school and other extracurricular activities as a result.
In a statement provided in the lawsuit, Jensen said she got delayed notifications from the district informing her that children in her oldest son's class tested positive for the virus and later learned through another parent with a child in her oldest son's class that four children had tested positive.
She also learned the district had no thresholds for when the class would be quarantined and that no contact tracing was being done. Instead the district was "just blanket informing parents when a child in the school had tested positive, usually several days earlier."
Minocqua Brewing Company is owned by Kirk Bangstad, a Stevens Point, Wisconsin, native who has not been shy about publicly airing his frustrations with the way former President Donald Trump's administration responded to the pandemic. Last November, he ran an ultimately failed campaign against incumbent Republican Rob Swearingen for the Assembly District 34 seat.
Waukesha School District superintendent James Sebert in an email declined to discuss the lawsuit.
"We have been in contact with our attorneys and on the advice of our counsel, we have been advised not to comment further at this time," Sebert said.
Eight of the nine members of the Waukesha School Board did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.
Waukesha School Board president Joseph Como said in an email he cannot comment on the lawsuit per the district's legal counsel.