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'An uphill battle': Parent group to sue Ottawa County over recent mask mandate

The group hired an attorney with the Great Lakes Justice Center, who recently represented Western Michigan University athletes wanting a vaccine exemption.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — A group of passionate parents in Ottawa County plan to sue the county over the current mask mandate for young students.

Joe Waldner is the director of the newly-formed non-profit group called Parents Choice of West Michigan.

"We saw how things were unfolding and thought that no one was really listening to parents, but instead just kind of bulldozing over us," Waldner said.

"We are not anti-mask, anti-vaccine, or anti-testing," he added, "what we are, though, is pro-choice and more specifically pro-parents choice."

Right now, the group is fighting to overturn Ottawa County's mask mandate for students from kindergarten through 6th grade. 

Their next step is to sue the county. 

"We are suing the Ottawa County Health Department, but also the Board of Commissioners because essentially they're in charge of defending these lawsuits," said Joe Waldner.

The group has hired an attorney with the Great Lakes Justice Center, which is the same firm that recently represented four Western Michigan University athletes who were fighting against the school's vaccine mandate.

"There's going to be multiple counts that we feel and our attorney feels that the county health department, specifically the health officer in Ottawa County has overstepped their authority," explained Waldner. 

As of Thursday evening, the attorney for Parents Choice West Michigan has not yet responded for comment. 

"They did caution me that this is an uphill battle," said Joe Waldner. 

13 ON YOUR SIDE reached out to Ottawa County in response to the planned lawsuit. In a brief statement, the county's attorney, Doug Van Essen, said:

"I will obviously respond to any lawsuit that is filed against the county. At this point in time, no one has given me the courtesy of a copy of any demand letter or draft complaint (which typically occurs with potential lawsuits) so I can't comment on something I haven't seen."

Ottawa County Commissioner Greg DeJong issued a similar sentiment over the phone, explaining that he appreciates the passion that his constituents have shown over the past couple of weeks, but he does not yet have enough information to comment on the supposed lawsuit.

Joe Waldner said he and their group understand that this situation hasn't been easy for the commissioners and they're hoping this lawsuit actually makes it easier for them by giving them a way out. 

"We realize that they are in between a rock and a hard place and I sympathize with where they're at to a certain degree," said Waldner. 

Waldner said the lawsuit is planned to officially be filed on Friday morning.

"I'm not a medical expert, and I'm certainly not an attorney," Waldner said, "but I am an expert on my three kids. That's what I'm an expert at."

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