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Jefferson County school district drops mask mandate

The school district’s quarantine policy, which is being challenged in court, remains in place

A school district in Jefferson County is walking back its mask mandate this week, though its COVID-19 quarantine policies will remain in effect amid a legal challenge. 

Fox C-6 Superintendent Dr. Paul Fregeau announced the school’s mask mandate would end Friday, though face coverings will still be encouraged. Fregeau said the mandate is being rescinded because the county’s COVID positivity rate dropped to the yellow level this week, indicating low risk. The order was put in place while the county was rated red, the highest indicator of risk.   

The county’s policy requiring unmasked students who have come in close contact with a positive case outside of school to quarantine for 14 days if not fully vaccinated, regardless of test results, will remain in effect.

“Removing the district’s mask requirement does not change the modified quarantine guidelines from the Jefferson County Health Department,” Fregeau said in a community update. “Thank you for your continued patience and flexibility as we work to provide the best possible learning environment for our students.”

Fox C-6 School District announced its mask mandate would end on Oct. 29, 2021. (FOX C-6 SCHOOL DISTRICT)

A lawsuit, filed with the Jefferson County Circuit Court earlier this month, sought to stop the health department from enforcing the quarantine rule on students. The challenge was filed on behalf of two Jefferson County parents who said the order could have negative impacts on their children and other students. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, the county’s state representative, in her role as an attorney. 

Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a vocal opponent of certain COVID-19 health orders, filed a brief in the lawsuit Monday, arguing the quarantine orders — which were enacted in August and updated a month later — were illegal under a new state law limiting emergency health orders to 30 days without an extension.

“The Jefferson County Health Department failed to follow the law and is attempting to unlawfully impose a quarantine requirement on students and parents in Jefferson County schools,” Schmitt said. “From the beginning, I’ve fought these petty tyrants who only seek to exert power and control, and I will continue that fight.”

The new law, enacted earlier this year, prohibits local officials from issuing public health orders or restrictions leading to the closure of schools, businesses, or places of worship beyond 30 days during a six-month period amid a state of emergency. Those orders could be extended by a majority vote of the local governing body. Outside of an emergency, the limit would be set at 21 days. 

Other health orders included in the updated Jefferson County guidance require students and teachers in elementary classrooms to mask for 14 days when a positive case is identified, social distancing, and designated lunch areas for those who have been exposed to the virus but are allowed to remain in school.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday. 

Jefferson County reported 252 new COVID-19 cases in the past seven days along with three deaths, all of which were adults. More than 43 percent of the county’s adult population have completed vaccination and 49 percent have received an initial dose.