Missouri judge denies class-action lawsuit in AG challenge of school mask mandate

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COLUMBIA, Mo.– A judge has denied Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s effort to block mask mandates in schools across the state but did not dismiss the overall case. 

Public schools in Missouri requiring masks will get to keep their mandates in place for now, after Schmitt, who is running for U.S. Senate, tried to file a class-action lawsuit against the 50 or so schools in the state that require face coverings. 

The Boone County judge denied his request for a class-action lawsuit over the mandate which means if Schmitt wants to challenge face masks requirements in the classroom, he’ll have to do it against each district individually. 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. The lawsuit said the CPS mask mandate is “arbitrary and capricious.” He then wanted to add the 10%of school districts that require students to mask up into the lawsuit but was rejected. 

“The narrower route would be to pursue it in those districts,” Circuit Judge Brouck Jacobs said to solicitor general for the attorney general’s office John Sauer. 

Jacobs also refused CPS’s request to dismiss the case. 

“With 532 school districts, that means 532 different decisions,” Grant WSiens with Mickes O’Toole law firm representing CPS said. “He [Schmitt] wants all of it in one case in front of one judge. The question is, they all need different things.”

CPS, a district of nearly 19,000 students, said they were thrilled about the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing and went on to say in a statement: 

Today is a good day for Missouri. Columbia Public Schools is thrilled with the outcome of today’s proceedings.

The Missouri Attorney General sought to enjoin more than 500 public school districts regarding the local decisions each made in the best interest of their own community’s needs. These decisions were based on guidance and recommendations from local, state, and national health experts, including the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the CDC. 

Judge Jacobs agreed with the district’s arguments that the Missouri Attorney General does not have the authority to certify a class that includes every school district in the state and enjoin them regarding their individual decisions around mitigation measures.

Columbia Public Schools will continue to defend our district’s ability to implement recommended mitigation measures to keep scholars, teachers, and staff members safe and in school.

Columbia Public Schools

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. 

Chris Nuelle, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, said: 

Our lawsuit against the forced masking of school children will continue. We plan to aggressively pursue discovery in this case to show how bureaucrats have incessantly moved the goalposts to justify never ending restrictions and mask mandates – the people of this state have had enough, and we plan to continue to seek answers. It’s crucial that the Court ruled that schools fall under the new state law in his denial of the motion to dismiss, and while the Court denied temporary relief, this fight is far from over.

Missouri Attorney General’s Office

Schmitt’s lawsuit refers to a new law 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.

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. 

Commissioner for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Margie Vandeven said last week it’s about local control. Vandeven said some of the guidance issued by DESE to schools, recommends people who are unvaccinated to mask up. She went on to saying during an interview Friday, quarantine has been, “one of the most disruptive components of the pandemic.”

Schmitt’s case against CPS is still ongoing and his office said will continue to fight until the district removes its mask mandate. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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