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Missouri attorney general renews threat to sue schools over mask, quarantine rules

Springfield, Missouri is home to the state's largest school district: Springfield Public Schools.
Photo Credit: Springfield Public Schools

Missouri is continuing to see record daily coronavirus infections, near-peak COVID-19 caseloads in hospitals and threats from Attorney General Eric Schmitt that he will sue school districts that require masks or send students home when they are infected or exposed to the virus.

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Schmitt said school mask rules and requirements that students with an infection or exposure remain at home violate a Nov. 22 Cole County Circuit Court decision that found local health orders designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 violated the Missouri Constitution.

Schmitt, in his statement, said the ruling applies to school districts and any decisions about masks and isolation belong with parents.

“My office is currently finalizing lawsuits against all non-compliant districts to end the forced masking of schoolchildren, which will be filed later this week,” Schmitt said. “It’s far past time that the power to make health decisions concerning children be pried from the hands of bureaucrats and put back into the hands of parents and families, and I will take school district after school district to court to achieve that goal.”

Schmitt is misreading the law, said Doug Hayter, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators. Laws governing school districts give boards of education general power to set rules needed to run their districts and specific authority to keep infectious students out of school, he said.

“We still feel strongly that local school districts or governmental entities have the authority to make decisions,” Hayter said.

There is no centralized accounting for what rules are in place in the state’s more than 500 districts. Schmitt’s office did not provide a list of districts targeted by his statement, but spokesman Chris Nuelle said a complaint inbox has received more than 11,000 submissions.

“We fundamentally believe that children should be in school, where they receive the best learning experience around their peers,” Nuelle wrote in an email. “Parents – as taxpayers – deserve to have teachers on staff, teaching their children in person.”

Students and parents deserve a safe place to learn, Hayter said.

“School administrators around the state simply want to do what is best for kids and their family and we support their ability to do so,” he said.

Throughout the state, cases continue to set daily records. The Department of Health and Senior Services reported Tuesday that its 7-day average of cases hit an all-time high of 11,265 cases per day as of Saturday.

After a two-day pause for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the department reported 24,256 additional cases, with case totals rising in 101 of the state’s 118 local health department jurisdictions over the past week. All but 25 local health jurisdictions have exceeded their December infection rates.

Hospitalizations reached a pandemic peak of 3,714 inpatients on Friday. The reported number declined on Saturday to 3,507, but could be subject to holiday reporting delays.
Missouri attorney general renews threat to sue schools over mask, quarantine rules

Rudi Keller | Missouri Independent