UPMC won't sign medical exemptions for kids in mask-mandated schools, parents claim in lawsuit

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In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court Oct. 20, parents in nine Western Pennsylvania communities allege that they are met with blanket refusal from UPMC physicians to sign medical exemptions allowing their children to attend school without masks. 

The lawsuit also names Alison Beam, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and Sherri Smith, EdD, acting deputy secretary of the state's Department of Education.

In August, Ms. Beam issued an order requiring students to wear masks in school. The order allows for an exception if wearing a mask causes a medical condition, makes an existing one worse or creates a mental health issue. 

In September, Dr. Smith said any schools that permit an exception to the mandate without medical evidence are noncompliant with the order and could be open to lawsuits.

The 10 plaintiffs — nine parents and one guardian — claim that school districts have "rigorously demanded" any parent seeking an exemption for a medical condition have medical evidence, including medical records, from the child's pediatrician or a treating physician. 

"Numerous parents seeking such an exemption have been informed by their personal care physician or pediatrician that no physician will support such an exemption pursuant to orders from their healthcare providers, including the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center," the lawsuit states, claiming that UPMC and "other major healthcare organizations" refuse to consider requests for medical exemption evaluations "as a matter of policy."

One plaintiff claims that she called the office of a specialist affiliated with UPMC seeking a medical exemption for her child whose anxiety escalated once required to wear a mask at school.

The specialist's office responded by saying, "We are not signing any exemptions. If you are concerned, please pull her out of school," the plaintiff claimed. 

Another plaintiff claims physicians at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh refused to sign an exemption for fear of being sued.

UPMC declined Becker's request for a comment. 

The parents and guardian seek an injunction against the defendants, declaring that they are in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by maintaining a policy of refusing exemptions. The suit is also asking that the August order by the secretary of health and the September communication from the secretary of education be voided.

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