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Kansas City area schools uphold mask orders despite warning from Missouri attorney general

Young students wearing a light blue paper mask sits in a classroom.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A student listens to his teacher read at Phillis Wheatley Elementary, which will continue to require masks.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt is facing backlash online for requesting parents to submit videos or pictures of school districts enforcing mask orders and quarantine policies.

Kansas City Public Schools will continue its COVID-19 protocols despite threatened legal action from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.

Schmitt said earlier this week that he issued letters to local health authorities and school districts informing them that enforcing mask mandates and quarantine orders violated a decision by a Cole County judge last month.

KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell said at Wednesdays’ board of education meeting that the district has looked into the legalities of Schmitt’s statement and will continue to uphold current COVID precautions.

“We just want to make sure that our community knows that safety above all else is our No. (1) priority in this school district. This board has been supporting us in our position on this matter from day one,” Bedell said. “And even with masking, we're still having a lot of folks that have to go out on quarantine.”

Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green found that public health orders issued by local health departments violate the state’s constitution by handing the ability to create and enforce laws “into the hands of an unelected administrative official.”

The mask requirement at KCPS was put in place via a Kansas City Council ordinance. Mayor Quinton Lucas said on Twitter that Schmitt’s guidance would not apply to Kansas City since its mask mandate was issued by the council, which consists of elected officials as opposed to appointed ones.

Several other Kansas City-area school districts have also said that Schmitt’s letter will not affect their masking and quarantine policies.

The Lee’s Summit School District issued a letter to parents earlier this week stating that it would not change its current protocols since they were approved by a board of education vote.

“Board policies approved by elected officials enforce the district’s responsibility to protect the health of students and employees from the risks of communicable diseases, including adherence to local health guidelines such as quarantines,” spokesperson Katy Bergen said in an email. “As of today, those county protocols are still in place.”

The North Kansas City Schools, Park Hill, Kearney, and Hickman Mills School districts have also said they will continue their current mitigation policies.

The Missouri School Boards' Association sent an email on Thursday to board members and superintendents across the state that their authority to make health and safety rules were not impacted by the Cole County court ruling. It cited a 1963 law that allows school officials to exclude students who have a contagious disease.

Meanwhile, Schmitt, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has doubled down on his commitment to take action against schools that don’t drop their mask mandates and quarantine policies. He posted to twitter on Wednesday asking parents to submit videos or pictures to help identify school districts that are violating the order.

The request sparked a backlash online, with many complaining that such photos could include children whose pictures were taken without their parents’ consent.

Meanwhile, local health professionals are concerned that COVID cases among children could surge after the holiday season. According to officials at Children’s Mercy hospital, the positivity rate of children tested for COVID was 17% last week, compared to approximately 10% the week before.

Lee’s Summit and North Kansas City schools are reporting their highest number of COVID cases this school year, according to their online dashboards.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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