MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Pa. - Parents are suing Montgomery County officials after a decision last week to require county schools to temporarily go virtual due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Parents filed the lawsuit against the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the individual members of the two organizations.
Montgomery County health officials voted on Nov. 13 to mandate that all K-12 schools go virtual for two weeks. The order, approved unanimously by the county board of health, requires all public and private schools in the county to move classes online from Nov. 23-Dec. 6.
Officials held the vote Nov. 13 after a nearly three-hour meeting on Nov. 12 in which parents spoke out against the proposal to close schools. At the Nov. 12 meeting, the county health board said it would reconvene the following day at noon to vote.
The lawsuit claims officials violated the Sunshine Act by not providing proper public notice of the Nov. 13 meeting. The lawsuit says officials did not publish notice of the Nov. 13 meeting in a newspaper or advertise it on television or radio. The only notice was given through the Board's website and Twitter feed, the lawsuit said.
The suit also claims officials violated the Sunshine Act by limiting public comment at the Nov. 12 meeting and barring public comment at the Nov. 13 meeting.
The plaintiffs say the board significantly revised the proposed order sometime between the Nov. 12 and Nov. 13 meetings, which they say is a violation of the Sunshine Act.
The suit is asking that official action taken at both meetings be declared invalid and void. The suit is also requesting a preliminary and permanent injunction stopping officials from implementing the order to close schools.
A Montgomery County spokesperson issued a statement in response to the lawsuit:
“The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has charged local boards of health with the mission of ensuring the health, safety and well-being of its citizens. This is why the Montgomery County Board of Health acted to require that schools move to all-virtual instruction for a two-week period while COVID-19 continues to spread at rates unseen since the Spring.
“We recognize that a number of parents may be unhappy with the decision of the Board of Health. However, as their legal filings indicate, the Board possesses the legal authority to take this action, and they instead seek to attack the process by which this order was issued. We are confident that this attack will fail, as the meeting where this action was taken was properly advertised, public comment was permitted, and the final vote was held until the following day to permit further comments to be submitted via email for consideration by the Board.”