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Cherry Creek school board candidate Schumé Navarro, who has said she has an issue with wearing masks, has sued the district over its “refusals to provide accommodations that would allow her to participate fully in candidate forums” where mask wearing is required, according to a news release from the organization that filed the lawsuit.
The organization, the conservative-leaning Public Trust Institute, is listed with a Lakewood address in the lawsuit text.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on Sept. 28, asks the court to require the school district to allow Navarro to participate in candidate forums “with accommodations adequate to place her on equal footing with other candidates.”
In response, Abbe Smith, spokesperson for the school district, said on Sept. 29: “We dispute the allegations made in the suit, and we intend to vigorously defend against the case."
For a Sept. 28 candidates’ forum at Grandview High School, the school district had the event set up to accommodate Navarro remotely via videoconferencing, but she did not participate, Smith said.
Navarro did not attend the Sept. 21 candidates' forum at Eaglecrest High School because of an issue she says she has with masks.
At an earlier candidates' forum at Overland High School on Sept. 14, Navarro attended and wore a mask, as is required at forums inside schools, but was pulling it away from her face during the forum and while speaking.
Toward the end of that forum, Navarro appeared to say she was struggling with wearing the mask.
“I've sent a letter trying to talk about the … issues that I've gone through with being abused, and I can't really think in this space,” Navarro said at the forum. She added: “I can't even gather my thoughts because of the amount of trauma that I am having to sit through.”
At the Sept. 21 Eaglecrest forum, another candidate, Jen Gibbons, said she wanted to “advocate for my opponent, Schumé Navarro, who is not here because of trauma because of the masks.”
“It would make for a more equitable forum if we could make accommodations, maybe outside or (with) COVID tests,” Gibbons said.
Both Navarro and Gibbons are challengers running against incumbent Kelly Bates to represent District D on the board. The seat represents the eastern part of the school district, including parts of Centennial and Aurora.
The Cherry Creek School District requires the wearing of masks as a COVID-safety measure inside its school buildings, under a mandate from the Tri-County Health Department, the public-health agency for Arapahoe County.
Navarro wrote in a statement on Facebook on Sept. 21: “Unfortunately, the Cherry Creek School District continues to do everything in their power to discriminate and exclude me” and not offer “any reasonable accommodations regarding my medical mask exemption.”
The district “has ignored my disability and trauma and have not provided accommodation options,” Navarro's statement continued.
Navarro told Colorado Community Media she provided the school district a letter from her therapist noting her suffocation trauma from childhood. Her therapist, based in the south Jefferson County area, wrote that Navarro "cannot medically tolerate a face covering due to a prior suffocation trauma that she has experienced." Navarro sent a copy of the letter to Colorado Community Media.
Navarro said she included a "health summary" that noted a deviated septum and nasal deformity, nasal blockage sinusitis, and breathing issues. She sent CCM an image of the health summary, which also notes a trauma in childhood and appears to be from UCHealth's website.
"Unfortunately, my primary care physician is at UCHealth, and when I had reached out to them multiple times asking for a letter of exemption due to my physical health issues, they asked if I was vaccinated," Navarro told CCM. "Once I answered no, that I was not, they told me that they would not be writing a letter. "
The Tri-County Health Department's mask order for schools allows for exemptions. But Navarro did not provide the required documentation from a Colorado licensed medical provider, according to Smith, the school district spokesperson. Navarro's letter appears to include a Colorado license number for her counselor.
The school district said Navarro submitted a request for a medical exemption but that it did not meet Tri-County Health's standards.
“To be clear, Schumé Navarro did not submit a valid medical exemption signed by a doctor,” Smith said.
“If a person has a valid medical exemption that they provided to the district ahead of time and which has been reviewed and approved by the district as meeting the requirements of the Tri-County Health order, that person does not have to wear a mask,” Smith said. “We have not received any valid medical exemptions signed by a Colorado licensed medical provider for any community member.”
The federal court handling the lawsuit wrote in an order dated Sept. 28 that the school district’s response in the case should address questions regarding the definition of a medical provider and whether disability law would require the district to provide Navarro with accommodations regardless of that definition.
The court’s order poses questions that include “why a letter provided by a Licensed Professional Counselor is insufficient to obtain a medical exemption from the District, given that an LPC is a mental health professional licensed by the State of Colorado to provide mental health and psychological evaluation, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment to individuals.”
The order also asked “why … Ms. Navarro is not a qualified individual with a disability entitled to reasonable accommodations under the applicable provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and/or Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act.”
The school district has held school board candidate forums on Sept. 14 at Overland High School, Sept. 21 at Eaglecrest High, Sept. 22 at Cherry Creek High and Sept. 28 at Grandview High.
Forums will also take place Sept. 30 at Smoky Hill High and Oct. 7 at Cherokee Trail High.
Ballots in the election are to be mailed to voters starting Oct. 8. The deadline for returning ballots is Election Day, Nov. 2.