COVID suit alleges Wahlquist Junior High twice put exposed student in storage closet
FARR WEST — A Plain City couple has sued state and local officials, alleging their son was twice held in a Wahlquist Junior High School storage closet after showing up to classes while under a COVID-19 quarantine order in 2020.
Benjamin and DeAnn Heaton and their attorney, J. Morgan Philpot, accused officials of the Weber School District, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, the Utah State Board of Education and the Weber-Morgan Health Department of conspiring to block the teenager from disobeying an Oct. 30, 2020, directive that he stay home from school because he had been exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.
The suit, filed Jan. 6 in 2nd District Court in Ogden, said officials’ actions were underpinned by what Philpot contended were illegal public health orders during the Gov. Gary Herbert administration that have since expired.
The boy was told to stay home until at least Nov. 6, 2020, because of the exposure, but he arrived at school Nov. 2. He was intercepted by school personnel and “forced to remain in a storage closet with no window.” He returned to school the next day and was put back in the closet, the suit said.
After the parents complained, they at times were shadowed by uniformed sheriff’s deputies, the suit contended.
An undated YouTube video posted Jan. 12 this year shows a school district employee and a sheriff”s deputy telling Benjamin Heaton his son could not get on the school bus because of the reported exposure.
“I’m just here on a keep-the-peace,” the deputy said.
“This is the problem in society of what’s going on,” Heaton said. “I do not recognize your guidelines as valid to supersede my son’s right to an education.”
“Defendants did work together in their official capacities to plan the aforementioned acts,” the suit said. “Defendants communicated through telephone, email, text message and verbal communication with each other to carry out the aforementioned acts and offenses.”
Philpot wrote that the suit is based on students’ constitutional right to attend public school and that the defendants “unlawfully adopted and implemented arbitrary rules and policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Officials allegedly targeted the Heatons “to perpetuate an agenda that required fear and intimidation in order to cover up their absolute lack of evidence that school age children and their teachers are at some level of risk that would justify violation of fundamental and unalienable rights.”
The suit asked the court to prohibit officials from the complained actions “and should also enjoin defendants from further implementation of their unlawful orders, rules and policies.”
Weber School District spokesperson Lane Findlay on Tuesday released the following statement:
“We adamantly disagree with and will be disputing the allegations outlined in the complaint. At no time was a student placed in a closet at the school. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Weber School District has closely followed quarantine and isolation guidelines issued by health authorities. This included designating alternate rooms to be used as quarantine areas. The room in question is approximately 300 square feet. We believe the facts of this case will show the school and district followed the health guidelines that were in place at that time in order to protect students and staff against COVID-19.”
Philpot did not immediately return a phone call Monday.
The circumstances of COVID-19 control in schools as referenced in the Heatons’ suit no longer apply in Utah schools. Under Senate Bill 107, passed by the 2021 Legislature, the Utah Department of Health started a test-to-stay program. The state and its schools this month are awash in an unprecedented number of COVID-19 cases due to the fast-spreading omicron variant.
The Heatons said their son was asymptomatic during the time in question.
The suit claimed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the UDOH have reported no deaths in Utah from COVID in the 0-24 age group. However, UDOH data as of Monday showed at least 23 COVID deaths in that age range, including fewer than five in the 1-14 age group.
The CDC also said that while child mortality rates are lower, children may develop serious illness and that they can spread the disease to adults, including teachers.