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Missouri Attorney General seeks to end school mask mandates

Health experts are encouraging masks in school settings as students under the age of 12 are currently ineligible to receive vaccinations. (USA Today)

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit against Columbia Public Schools on Aug. 24 seeking to end the school district’s mask mandate, calling the mandate “arbitrary and capricious.” 

The lawsuit, which Schmitt filed in Boone County’s 13th Circuit Court, is a class action lawsuit, meaning that if Schmitt were to win the case, all schools in Missouri would be required to rescind masking mandates. 

“The suit filed by Attorney General Eric Schmitt is a threat to public health and safety,” said UMKC Student Bar Association Vice President Alexander Hartley. “Barring public schools from the ability to require masks on school grounds places the youngest members of our society in unnecessary danger.”

According to public health experts and the CDC, face coverings are the single most effective deterrent to the spread of COVID-19 short of vaccines. Health experts are encouraging masks in school settings as students under the age of 12 are currently ineligible to receive vaccinations.  

The class action suit against Columbia schools is the latest in an escalating series of anti-mask lawsuits brought by the Missouri Attorney General. Schmitt, who is also running for US Senate, previously brought suits attempting to end mask mandates in Kansas City, St. Louis, Jackson County and other localities. 

“I suspect he has both ideological and political motivations,” UMKC political science professor Beth Vonnahme said. “He is a conservative that believes in limited government, but he also has political aspirations, and mask wearing has become a hot-button issue, especially for certain parts of the Republican Party that he will need to court.”   

The lawsuit claims that mask mandates do not consider data or science and that parents should have the right to choose if their children should wear masks in school. Schmitt cited a German study that said school-aged children reported irritability, headaches, difficulty concentrating and less happiness as the result of mask wearing. 

“We filed this suit today 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 said. “I am committed to fighting back against this kind of government overreach. Americans are free people, not subjects.”

According to an Aug. 13 report from the CDC, pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations have experienced an uptick in recent weeks. Those aged 0-17 require hospitalization at a rate of 0.41 per 100,000, which is up from the high in January 2021 of 0.31 per 100,000. COVID-19 was the ninth leading cause of death in children in 2020. 

“COVID-19 cases in children continue to skyrocket,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said. “Mask mandates help protect students, teachers, faculty and staff plus all of their loved ones at home. I and the city will continue to stand by our actions which were made to protect our children and our vulnerable friends, families, and neighbors.”

Mayor Lucas also labeled Schmitt’s actions as a “politically motivated stunt,” a sentiment shared by Kansas City Public Schools board member Manny Abarca, who claimed that Schmitt was doing all he could to get his name in the press “at the expense of public health and kids.” 

“I do not think these lawsuits will hurt Schmitt politically,” Vonnahme said. “Especially if he loses the cases. If he wins and COVID-19 spreads in schools then it might pose a problem for him, but the courts have been inclined to side with school districts.”

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