Canon McMillan School District Administration offices

A lawsuit filed against Canon-McMillan School District raising concerns about how high school officials handled questioning students about their COVID-19 vaccination status and the education resources given to those who were quarantined could be moving to federal court.

The lawsuit filed Sept. 10 by attorney Lane Turturice claims the district violated the medical privacy rights of dozens of students while school officials were performing contact tracing after one child tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak last month.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of parents Rachel Friem of North Strabane Township and Cody Hickton of Cecil Township takes exception with the district’s COVID-19 safety policy and how it’s been implemented since being passed by the school board in June.

After a student apparently tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 30, the district began contact tracing and compiled a list of 70 students who may have been near that person, including the two plaintiffs’ children. Those students were removed from class and directed to visit the school nurse, who asked the students to fill out a questionnaire about whether or not they were vaccinated.

The lawsuit alleges that while the discussions were held with each student individually, the door to the examination room remained open, meaning other students and adults could hear the conversations, leading to potential issues of “safe-guarding the information,” Turturice said.

The lawsuit also claims that parents of the students were not informed of the situation beforehand. The school nurse called parents afterward, but while in the vicinity of the students, meaning personal information could be overheard by others, the lawsuit alleges.

“There’s this scare factor being used. ‘Do you have your vaccination or not?’ I’ve heard of kids being shamed about it, and that’s not right,” Turturice said.

Students were then divided into two groups depending on whether they were vaccinated, and the unvaccinated students were sent home. Those students were told to read course information on the district’s Schoology website, although Canon-McMillan does not currently offer a comprehensive remote learning option.

“It’s how the school procured the information. Then they used the information to discipline or punish kids and deny them their education,” Turturice said. “They sent these kids home without any education. That is part of their lawsuit and they have to answer to that.”

Meanwhile, vaccinated students – including those of the two plaintiffs – were ordered to wear face masks for five days and then test negative for COVID-19. The next day, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered that all grade school students and teachers must wear face masks while at class beginning Sept. 7, although there are exemptions to that rule.

Turturice said the plaintiffs are not against the vaccine, but upset with how the situation was handled.

Neither Superintendent Michael Daniels nor solicitor Joseph Cavrich, the attorney representing the school district in the case, responded to phone messages seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The school district filed a notice on Sept. 17 asking to move the case to federal court because one section of the lawsuit alludes to an alleged Fourth Amendment violation of illegal search and seizure. Turturice said he is considering filing a response to keep the case in Washington County Court.

While Friem and Hickton are listed as the plaintiffs, Turturice said he’s heard from numerous other parents who are upset about how the situation was handled. Still, he and the parents who brought the lawsuit would prefer to discuss the matter privately with school officials to find a resolution.

“I’m hoping we can resolve it,” Turturice said. “I think the situation presents a fairly straightforward solution for the school district to change its practices and procedures.”

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