COLUMBIA, Mo. – Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a class-action lawsuit in an effort to stop public schools from issuing mask mandates will be in front of a judge Tuesday.
On the same day that Columbia Public Schools (CPS) returned to the classroom in August, Schmitt filed a lawsuit against the district for requiring masks. He said he plans to ask the judge to include the other 50 Missouri schools that have mask mandates to the lawsuit.
“Masking up a five-year-olds all day long is just not backed up by any widespread study,” Schmitt, who is running for U. S. Senate, said Friday. “Parents should be able to make those decisions and families should be able to make those decisions, not these bureaucrats.”
Ten percent of school districts in the state could soon be facing a lawsuit for requiring students to wear a mask. The lawsuit said the CPS mask mandate is “arbitrary and capricious.”
“Folks cannot point to any widespread study at all that would show that this provides any real benefit for kids,” Schmitt said.
Less than 35% of people between the ages of 12 to 17 are vaccinated in Missouri. Earlier this month, the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA) reported more than 1,100 children under 18 tested positive for COVID in one day, a record number of cases.
“People are tired I think of these bureaucrats making this stuff up as they go along and that’s what we are fighting back against,” Schmitt said. “This kind of overreach that has long-term consequences.”
Columbia Public School did not want to go on camera because the district does not discuss active litigation, but said in a statement in part:
“In Columbia Public Schools, providing a safe learning environment for all our scholars and staff is our top priority. First-day numbers indicate the school district’s enrollment increased by 525 scholars over last year with a total first-day enrollment of 18,738. Scholars arrived to our campuses excited to return to in-person learning and ready for a great year ahead.
“Columbia Public Schools is extremely disappointed to learn that the Missouri Attorney General has chosen to pursue litigation against the school district for providing safety measures for its scholars, teachers, and staff members. The decisions made are based on guidance and recommendations from local, state, and national health experts, including the CDC.
“The decision to require masks is not a forever decision. It is something currently necessary to keep our scholars safely learning in our schools. The health and safety of Missouri citizens, especially its youngest citizens, should always be the first priority of our great state’s elected leadership.”
Commissioner for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Margie Vandeven said it’s about local control.
“Our guidance does speak to masking in schools for those who are not vaccinated, in particular for those who can’t be vaccinated,” Vandeven said.
She said schools are seeing more children test positive for the virus due to the Delta Variant.
“When conditions warrant, there are mitigation strategies that can be put into place to avoid quarantine for example,” Vandeven said.
“That’s been one of the most disruptive components of the pandemic has been quarantine.”
Vandeven said DESE has supported local control and decision-making since the beginning of the pandemic.
“One thing that state law provides for is making sure that you’re revisiting that decision on a monthly basis,” Vandeven said.
In the lawsuit, the attorney general argued mask mandates were not effective and points to the low transmission rates among school-aged children.
“The facts are that kids are very unlikely to contract, transmit or get seriously ill from this,” Schmitt said. “The seasonal flu is much more deadly than COVID but you don’t see these same bureaucrats talking about force masking.”
Schmitt referred to a new state law Friday that limits the authority of local public health officials. House Bill 271 limits local orders restricting businesses, churches, schools, or gatherings to 30 days under a statewide emergency unless approved by a majority vote of the local governing body, like a city council. If there is no emergency, then the restriction or order could only last for 21 days unless approved.
“If they are going to do this, they have to do it every 30 days and there’s a process where the public gets to weigh in and they didn’t follow that,” Schmitt said.
The lawsuit asks the court to find the mask requirement from CPS unlawful because it should have expired after 30 days because there was no approval from the board of education.
The city of Columbia currently doesn’t have a mask mandate.
A Boone County judge will hear the case Tuesday morning. Schmitt said he also plans to ask for an injunction to block any school district in the state from issuing a mask mandate.