JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sent letters Tuesday to schools districts and local public health departments saying there will be "enforcement action" against any agency that continues to enforce mask mandates, quarantine orders or other public health orders.
The letters follow a Nov. 22 Cole County judge's ruling in Robinson v. Department of Health and Senior Services. Judge Daniel Green ruled non-elected officials cannot issue and enforce public health orders in Missouri. Schmitt told ABC 17 News that his office took time to interpret how the ruling will affect the rest of Missouri before crafting the letters.
"Under this judgment, all mask mandates, quarantine orders, and other public health orders that are based on any of the invalidated regulations or issued outside of the protections of the Missouri Administrative Procedure Act are null and void," the letter says. "You should stop enforcing and publicizing any such orders immediately."
In an interview, Schmitt said he believes the choice to wear a mask should be up to the individual families.
"I don't believe that government should be forcing the masking of 5-year-olds," Schmitt said.
Schmitt has several ongoing lawsuits against mask mandates in Missouri. Four Missouri areas have mask mandates: St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City and Jackson County. Columbia Public Schools also has a mask requirement in place that was approved by the elected school board.
When asked how the Cole County ruling will affect his ongoing lawsuits, Schmitt said it will vary between lawsuits based on the mechanics of the suit.
"We still believe that the four lawsuits that we have out there right now with counties that will be victorious because they either don't have the authority to issue them or they were done in an arbitrary way," Schmitt said.
The attorney general's office is in discovery in a lawsuit against Columbia Public Schools for its mask requirement. Schmitt said the Cole County ruling shows that school districts have never had the authority to enforce health mandates.
"I think parents and families should be able to make these decisions," Schmitt said.
Columbia Public Schools sent an email to parents saying it will continue to review health policies, but for now the mask rule will not change.
"Please know that we will continue to receive and evaluate guidance from the federal, state, and local levels to help inform our safety and mitigation measures," the email says. "And, we will continue to keep our community informed on any changes to our protocols as we move forward."
Noelle Gilzow, Columbia Public Schools teacher and president of the Columbia chapter of the National Educators Association, said it's too soon for students and teachers to take off masks.
"Every everybody is ready for us to be done with wearing masks and having to deal with a pandemic, but the pandemic isn't done with us yet," Gilzow said. "So we just have to hang on a little longer to make sure that we're winning the tide."
Last week, a Missouri Independent reporter shared emails obtained through a Sunshine Request between the governor and the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services containing graphs that were interpreted to show mask mandates slowed the spread of the delta variant. The governor and the attorney general said these were taken out of context.
Schmitt said the claims that mask mandates work have been debunked.
"I think since then, as people have digested the information, it's been shown now actually, to prove the opposite of the narrative," Schmitt said.