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Boone County judge denies Schmitt’s challenge to school mask mandates

A Boone County judge denied Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s motion for a preliminary injunction in his effort to block mask mandates for public schools.

Boone County Circuit Judge Brouck Jacobs also denied Schmitt’s motion for a class action as well as Columbia Public Schools’ (CPS) motion to dismiss the suit. Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the case against CPS was still alive and the next step was to “aggressively pursue discovery” in seeking an order to block the district’s mandate rather than pursuing a class-action motion.

“The people of this state have had enough, and we plan to continue to seek answers,” Nuelle told The Missouri Times. “It’s crucial that the court ruled that schools fall under the new state law in his denial of the motion to dismiss, and while the court denied temporary relief, this fight is far from over.”

Nuelle said the Attorney General’s Office would continue pursuing the case against CPS and consider similar challenges against other districts, noting Jacobs’ refusal to dismiss the case altogether.

Both sides pleaded their cases in court Tuesday morning.

Schmitt, a Republican, filed the preliminary injunction last week seeking to block CPS and other public schools from enforcing mandates, citing the new state law requiring approval from governing bodies for a health order to extend beyond 30 days.

The injunction sought to block schools from enforcing mandatory masking of public school students from pre-K to grade 12 while on school property or participating in school activities if the order has not been properly extended or approved by the local governing body.

The CPS Board unanimously voted to approve the school’s coronavirus plan last week, but Schmitt argued the mask mandate was not included in the plan, putting the district out of compliance with the new law.

The lawsuit specifically names CPS but encompasses other school districts that also impose a mask mandate. Schmitt has estimated at least 50 schools around the state had reinstated mask mandates.

The challenge argued the mask mandate is “arbitrary and capricious,” saying the “cure should not be worse than the disease.” The lawsuit alleged masks can be “detrimental” to children learning communication skills “at a critical stage of their development.”

The Republican attorney general argued mask mandates were not effective and pointed to lower COVID-19 transmission rates among school-aged children. He said masks could hinder social development for young children, particularly with special needs.

The suit quickly drew the ire of the Biden administration; White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden thought the move was “completely unacceptable.”

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has left mask ordinances, school closures, and other mitigation strategies up to individual school boards based on community positivity rates and in consultation with local health officials.

Schmitt has filed lawsuits over similar mask mandates imposed by communities: St. Louis County enacted a new order Monday after Schmitt stalled its initial attempt in court. Schmitt said the move was “illegal” and committed to continuing the fight.