Missouri attorney general renews legal battle with Columbia Public Schools over COVID mask mandate – Columbia Daily Tribune

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Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt on Friday filed a new lawsuit against Columbia Public Schools over its temporary mask mandate.
CPS was just one of 35 districts Schmitt planned to sue by the end of Friday.
The district hadn’t yet been served the lawsuit as of press time, but was alerted to it, CPS spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark wrote in a statement.
Public school districts have the inherent ability under state law to implement mitigation strategies to keep schools safe and open during a pandemic, Baumstark wrote.
“Filing suits against numerous public school districts for making decisions in the interest of safety and keeping scholars in school continues to waste taxpayer dollars and resources, which are better spent investing in our scholars,” she wrote. “Columbia Public Schools intends to aggressively defend its decision to do everything possible to keep its scholars and staff safe and its schools open.”
Schmitt had previously sued the school district over its mask requirement.
From Sept. 2021:Judge denies motion to dismiss AG lawsuit, but rulings leave COVID-19 mask requirements in schools for now
Before the current mask mandate, the school board in December voted 4-3 to end the mask requirement when students returned from winter break on Jan. 4.
When the district took that action, Schmitt dropped his previous lawsuit against the district.
CPS Superintendent Brian Yearwood approved a temporary masking requirement as of the start of this week, through Feb. 4. The school board on Thursday voted to formalize the action, giving Yearwood discretion to extend it to Feb. 18 as the omicron variant causes illness among teachers, staff and students in schools.
The temporary masking requirement came after student walkouts and an online petition.
Some students at Thursday’s school board meeting requested the mask requirement be extended to the end of the school year.
The number of new cases of COVID-19 among CPS staff and students has declined in the week since the renewed mask requirement has been in place, though declines in the numbers of new cases had begun before that, according to the district’s COVID tracker.
The number of new student cases was 111 last Friday; 105 Tuesday; 52 on Wednesday; and six on Thursday. The number of new staff cases was 21 last Friday; 14 on Tuesday; 11 Wednesday; six on Thursday and two on Friday.
Hickman High School teacher MacKenzie Everett-Kennedy, in a Tribune opinion piece this week, named Schmitt as one of the leaders who has failed the state’s children. Her daughter, who has diabetes, caught COVID-19 at the beginning of the year, after the mask requirement was lifted.
More:Test positive for COVID on an at-home test? It’s now easier to report in Columbia and Boone County
“I’m just really disheartened he’s making a political issue of something that can help so many people who are vulnerable,” Everett-Kennedy said Friday about the new lawsuit.
In his lawsuit, Schmitt said there is no basis for the idea that masks prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“School districts do not have the authority to impose, at their whim, public health orders for their schoolchildren,” the wording of the lawsuit begins. “That is doubly true when the public health order, in this case, facemasks, creates a barrier to education that far outweighs any speculative benefit.”
Besides Schmitt, plaintiffs listed are CPS parents Amanda Hamlin, Tara Arnett and Marisa Hagler. Arnett and Hagler spoke against the previous mask mandate when it was in place. Hagler may be the district’s harshest critic. An October school board meeting was halted when school board President Helen Wade declared Hagler out of order for what Wade said were derogatory comments directed at school personnel.
Schmitt warned districts of further legal action Tuesday in a news release.
“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,” Schmitt said in the release.
School board members David Seamon, Jeanne Snodgrass and Katherine Sasser, who voted against ending the mask requirement in December, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment on Friday.
rmckinney@columbiatribune.com
573-815-1719

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