Missouri AG threatens more lawsuits over mask mandates as schools work to contain COVID-19 surge
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt says his office will file more lawsuits this week against school districts enforcing mask and quarantine requirements.
Tuesday morning's threat came as many schools are working to contain a surge of COVID-19 cases.
You can read the full statement from the attorney general below.
“School districts have never been given the authority by the legislature to enact public health orders like mask mandates or quarantine orders - the recent Cole County judgment just further affirms that fact. The decision to mask children in school should rest solely with parents and families. Last month, I informed a number of school districts that their decision to continue to enforce mask mandates is illegal and must be stopped immediately. Some school districts dropped their mask mandates and quarantine orders, but others continue to defy the law, despite the fact that COVID-19 poses very little risk to children. 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. 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.”Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt
JC Schools moved to the "yellow protocol" Tuesday, which requires masks indoors when students and staff cannot maintain a social distance of three feet.
Columbia Public Schools also put its indoor mask mandate back into place starting Tuesday. Students will also have a five-day weekend starting Friday to provide relief for schools and staff. The district had a mask mandate in place for much of the fall but the Columbia Board of Education repealed it in December under legal threats from Schmitt, who is seeking the Republican nomination to replace U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.
The mandate was put back in place until Feb. 4 because of rising case rates.
Fulton Public Schools, which does not have a mask mandate in effect, had to cancel class Tuesday because of staffing shortages.
Osage County R-III, or the Fatima School District, does not require masks. The district canceled classes for the rest of this week because of COVID-19 among students and staff.
Mid-Missouri and the entire state are reeling from a record-breaking surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the more transmissible omicron variant. The variant is filling hospitals while making health care workers sick, further straining resources.
Meanwhile, schools are contending with scores of students and staff out with illness and a lack of substitute teachers. Columbia Public Schools reported 93 students out of class Tuesday with COVID-19 and 70 staff members. Last week the district was able to get substitutes for just 61% of classes that needed them.
JC Schools reported 47 active student cases and 27 staff cases as of Monday.
Mid-Missouri has seen a spike in cases over the past several weeks, with Boone County leading the state in new cases per capita over the last week, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Cole County ranks fifth and Callaway County eighth.
Statewide hospitalizations shattered the record Saturday with more than 3,500 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Statewide about 19% of hospital capacity remains.