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Missouri attorney general orders Kansas City-area schools to cease and desist enforcing health orders

Close-up image of two children wearing masks listening to a teacher (not in photo) read a book.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Children at KCPS International Welcome Center listen to a teacher reading during class this summer.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sent letters to more than 30 school districts threatening legal action if they don't drop their mask and quarantine policies.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has sent letters to more than 30 school districts across the state ordering them to cease and desist enforcing public health orders.

Several Kansas City-area school districts received the letter, including Kansas City Public Schools, North Kansas City Schools, Lee’s Summit School District, Kearney School District, Liberty Public Schools, Smithville School District, Harrisonville School District and Grain Valley R-V School District.

The letter doubled down on a letter Schmitt sent earlier this week notifying local health authorities and school districts that enforcing mask mandates and quarantine orders violated a decision by a Cole County judge last month.

In letters to both the Rockwood and Springfield school districts on Wednesday, Schmitt wrote that his office had received a complaint from a parent that their schools were not complying with the judge’s ruling.

Schmitt said in the letters that he would be opening an investigation into the school districts for failing to comply with Cole County court ruling. He also requested copies of emails from school officials regarding the ruling and their COVID mitigation protocols.

“Let me assure you that I take any refusal by school officials to abide by the court’s order and comply with state law very seriously,” Schmitt wrote. “I will engage the full resources of the Missouri Attorney General’s office to ensure that no student will have his or her rights violated by unlawful and unconstitutional mandates.”

A spokesperson from Lee’s Summit School District said it will be responding through its legal counsel and declined further comment.

The district said on Thursday that it would not be changing its current protocols since they were approved by the board of education, which consists of elected officials as opposed to appointed ones. The court decision applied to appointed health officials.

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

A spokesperson for North Kansas City Schools said the district did not have a response at this time but will continue to follow COVID guidance issued by the city. Kansas City is requiring masks inside school buses and school buildings through the end of the month.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for KCPS said the district is “still working through what it means for us.”

Other school districts have plans to review their current COVID protocols at a future date. Representatives from the Platte County, Smithville and Kearney school districts said they will consider changes to their current mitigation policies at their respective board of education meetings next week.

A spokesperson for Liberty Public Schools said that its focus remains on providing in-person learning for students through the end of the semester. He said an update to any changes to their COVID will be provided later this month.

Meanwhile, the Odessa School District has lifted its mask mandate in what Schmitt said on Twitter was "a huge win for students."

The cease and desist letters follow a request made by Schmitt earlier this week asking parents to submit videos or pictures to help identify school districts that are violating the order.

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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