Family Sues Washington County Health Department Over School Closures

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in Washington was recently sued by a family from Lakewood, over a directive that requires all public and private schools in the county to begin the year with online learning.

According to the News Tribune in Washington, on behalf of their three children, the Cochran family filed the lawsuit on Monday against the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD) and Health Director Anthony Chen in the Pierce County Superior Court. The lawsuit claims that TPCHD and Chen "violated the required administrative procedures for a proper health directive" and "ignored the current and pre-eminent scientific and medical information regarding the health of school-aged children in the face of the novel coronavirus."

The Cochran's also filed the lawsuit "on behalf of all school families in Pierce County who will be deprived of the opportunity to attend in-school" classes in the fall, the News Tribune reported.

In July, Chen and TPCHD issued a recommendation that all schools across Pierce County should plan for remote learning due to the ongoing pandemic and increasing daily cases across Washington. Shortly after the recommendation, on August 5, Washington Governor Jay Inslee provided framework for schools looking to reopen for in-person classes, but on August 12, Chen issued another letter stating that his previous recommendation was a requirement, and both public and private schools in the county must hold online classes only.

Following Chen's letter on August 12, the Cochran family filed the lawsuit, saying that his decision "failed to involve the TPCHD board of directors in the decision to issue a blanket restriction."

According to the News Tribune, the lawsuit also states that "scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low," and that "remote learning leads to severe learning loss and makes absorbing information more difficult for students with disabilities, developmental delays, or other cognitive disabilities."

Coronavirus in U.S.
A student's name is written on a desk as a teacher sets up her classroom at Freedom Preparatory Academy as teachers begin to prepare to restart school after it was closed in March due to COVID-19 on August 13, 2020 in Provo, Utah. On Monday, the Cochran family filed a lawsuit against the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and Health Director Anthony Chen in the Pierce County Superior Court. George Frey/Getty

While speaking to Q 13 Fox in Seattle, Wendy Cochran's husband, Darrell, said that they were "flabbergasted" by the health department's order.

"We did not think that the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department had the right to do that," he said.

He added, "Every school district and every school institution should have the right to make decisions based on what they're capable of providing within their own school operations."

"And so here we had a health department come down and say we're going to make the decision for everyone, and they cannot legally do that," he said.

In a statement issued by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, they stated, "the Director of Health's requirement is based upon the Governor's decision tree that considers rate of community disease spread. As of August 24, 2020, the 14-day case rate per 100,000 in Pierce County was 90.7."

"According to the state Department of Health's decision tree, when the community transmission of disease drops below a total 14-day case rate of 75 per 100,000 and the test positivity rate is below 5%, schools can consider in-person learning for elementary students then gradually add hybrid in-person learning for middle or high school students," the statement added.

Newsweek was directed to the press release issued by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department after reaching out for comment.