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Attorney general drops lawsuit against Columbia Public Schools mask mandate

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks at a news conference with Gov. Mike Parson in the background.
KMIZ
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt speaks at a news conference with Gov. Mike Parson in the background.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

The Missouri Attorney General has dropped his lawsuit challenging a mask mandate in Columbia Public Schools.

The case was dismissed at the agreement of both parties Thursday, according to online court records. Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed the lawsuit in August, challenging a requirement that all students and employees in CPS buildings wear masks.

CPS pledged to fight the lawsuit at the time, but a Cole County judge's ruling in November invalidating public health orders led Schmitt to send letters to districts telling them to drop their mandates or his office would open an investigation.

The letter gave support to parents who disagreed with the mask mandate, with some of them sending their maskless children to school with copies of the letter. Schmitt also asked for parents to report schools that were still requiring masks.

The Columbia Board of Education voted days later to rescind the district's mask mandate effective when school starts again next week.

A spokeswoman for Schmitt said his office stands "ready to refile if the situation changes in our fight to protect the freedom of parents to make their own personal health decisions for their families."

The school district said in a statement that it's happy with the dismissal but "the Columbia Board of Education and Columbia Public Schools continue to support the importance of local control when making decisions that are in direct response to the individual needs of each community."

School will restart in the new year amid a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases coinciding with the spread of the omicron variant across Missouri. Boone County logged 200 new cases Wednesday and the state reported more than 5,000 confirmed new cases.

Experts say omicron is more easily spread than the delta variant that has been dominant across the U.S. since summer. Pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also on the rise.

Schmitt's office has also filed lawsuits against local governments with mask mandates and has refused a state health department request to appeal the Cole County ruling.

Some local governments were denied in their attempt to intervene and appeal the Cole County lawsuit. However, they've filed notice that they intend to appeal that decision. A few local health departments stopped reporting COVID-19 case numbers and deaths and ended contact tracing after receiving a letter from Schmitt about the Cole County decision.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia Public Schools
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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.

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