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Missouri Attorney General Files Suit Seeking To End Mask Mandates For Schools

 Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announces a potential settlement in a lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of addictive opioid painkillers on Thursday, July 22, 2021.
Sarah Fentem
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announces a potential settlement in a lawsuit against manufacturers and distributors of addictive opioid painkillers on Thursday, July 22, 2021.

Eric Schmitt has filed a reverse class action lawsuit in an attempt to stop schools from implementing mask mandates.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt has filed a reverse class action lawsuit against school districts that have implemented mask mandates.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, is specifically against the Columbia Public School District, but also against others that are “similarly situated.” It calls mask mandates for school districts unreasonable and arbitrary.

In a statement, released along with the lawsuit, Schmitt said his office filed the suit because “we fundamentally don’t believe in forced masking, rather that parents and families should have the power to make decisions on masks, based on science and facts.”

Schmitt’s new lawsuit is his latest action against mask mandates in the state. The attorney general’s office has already sued to stop mandates in St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City and Jackson County. In an emailed statement to St. Louis Public Radio, Chris Nuelle, press secretary for Schmitt, said they are “extremely confident in our lawsuit.”

However, Robert Gatter, professor of law at St. Louis University’s School of Law, said he believes the litigation is unlikely to be successful. Because the lawsuit will be argued on an arbitrary basis, Gatter said the state has to prove that school districts did not even consider facts when implementing the mandate.

“The state has to do more than just accuse. But it has to show that there was, there is no rational basis for this kind of decision. Meanwhile, all the school district will have to do is establish that there is,” Gatter said.

For the school districts involved in the suit, Gatter said it will be a lot easier for them to prove that there was a need for them to implement a mandate.

“To defeat this lawsuit, it would be enough for a school district to point to the CDC recommendation that all K-12 students wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status due to the spread of the Delta variant,” Gatter said.

George Sells, Director of Communications for St. Louis Public Schools, would not comment on the lawsuit itself, but said “We feel very comfortable that masks are key in keeping students, teachers and staff safe.”

Other districts contacted declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Schmitt’s suit comes only one day after many schools in Missouri began their academic year, with school districts across the state choosing to require face masks and others encouraging using them.

The issue of masks and children has drawn greater attention for some as children under 12 are ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, with a vaccine unlikely to be available for children until the end of the year.

One thing the suit could accomplish, Gatter said, is to cause complications for schools that have already implemented masks.

“It creates doubt and uncertainty which then seems to kick it back to individual parents who are making decisions without the certainty of the law being settled,” Gatter said.

The issue of masks in schools has left parents across the country divided on whether or not it should be up to the individual and not school districts to choose to wear a mask.

In response to Schmitt’s lawsuit, Webster parent Jennifer Finney on Facebook said she was very concerned about the lawsuit.

“I am unhappy that he’s using state funds to fight against scientific recommendations,” Rennie said. “I would not be comfortable sending my kids to school without a mask requirement.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahKKellogg
Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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