Brevard family sues school district over mask tied to student’s head

Parents say mask violated girl’s civil rights

Jeffrey Steel holds up a mask he says was tied to his stepfather's head during a news conference. Police later found no evidence the mask constituted a form of child abuse.

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The parents of a child with Down syndrome who had a mask tied to her head are now suing Brevard County Public Schools.

Shirley and Jeffrey Steel filed the suit in federal court Friday.

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They say their 7-year-old daughter was forced to wear a mask with a cord tied to keep it in place on her head at Ocean Breeze Elementary.

The Steels say the move went against their wishes, their daughter’s individual education plan, and her civil rights.

Indian Harbor Police conducted an investigation at the request of the parents, in a case that gained national attention.

Last month, investigators announced they found no evidence that tying the mask to the girl constituted some form of child abuse, and that the child never appeared to be in distress.

The school district acknowledged that the mask had been tied to the child’s head. The teachers used a shoelace to hold the mask in place, as seen in an example from the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation, and that the mask was never tied on tightly.

Staff at Ocean Breeze Elementary also said they sent a note home with all students about the district’s mask policy, though they admit they have no evidence the Steels saw the note, and they were never contacted directly.

The suit was filed against the school district, members of the school board and the girl’s teachers.

According to the lawsuit, the Steels are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

About the Authors:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.

Christie Zizo joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.