Palo Alto father sues school district after son forced to wear face mask

A.J. Gokcek’s son is entering his senior year at Palo Alto High, but a lawsuit filed earlier this month could overshadow progress toward his graduation.

"I have to protect my son’s right to an education. And also, his safety," he said.

Gokcek filed a lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court on July 6. The suit comes after his son was removed from a summer school history class at Gunn High School because he wasn't wearing a mask.

He claims his son, who he wishes to be referred to as "T.G." to protect his identity, has a speech and communication disability that is worsened when forced to wear a mask.

The Palo Alto Unified School District barred the 17-year-old from completing the two-and-a-half-week class. His father declined to let a school nurse evaluate T.G.

"Before they send me off or my son off to go see a nurse for some kind of evaluation or a doctor’s note, I would love to see the policy. For some strange reason they will not provide that to me," Gokcek said.

The school district's website said it follows state health department guidelines. Gokcek’s suit asked for an injunction so that his son could return to class. But the court ruled it was moot because, by the time it reached the judge, the class had ended. So Gokcek is amending his suit and plans to file another temporary injunction for the coming school year.

The PAUSD offices were closed on Friday. But Superintendent Doctor Don Austin sent a statement to KTVU that reads in part, "This suit is the first of many challenges school districts across the state should expect regarding masking and vaccinations…Students without medical exemptions will be required to wear a mask until those rules are changed."

"I’d like him to have an education in the classroom, just like the other children," Gokcek said.
For now, T.G. could view his senior year from the outside looking in, as his father and district settle differences fueled by a pandemic-instituted restriction.