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Missouri AG sends ‘cease and desist’ letters to school districts over COVID-19 mandates

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office has sent nearly three dozen school districts letters instructing them to halt COVID-19 mandates — such as mandatory face coverings, quarantines, or vaccines — this week. 

The letters, which instruct the districts to “cease and desist” their orders, also say the Attorney General’s Office will begin an investigation into “alleged failure to follow the law.” All 33 letters sent thus far are largely the same, according to a spokesperson for the office. 

The letters come on the heels of Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s request for parents’ help to identify schools with COVID-19 mandates still in place. 

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Last month, Cole County Judge Daniel Green said state’s health department regulations allowing Missouri’s health director and local health agencies to implement “control measures” were unconstitutional. The regulations allowed health directors to close schools or places of public assembly in the interest of protecting public health during the pandemic. The judge declared those orders void. 

Soon thereafter, Schmitt said school officials do not have the authority to implement mask, quarantine, or other public health orders. In a letter to districts earlier this week, Schmitt said local public health agencies had been instructed to halt their COVID-19 orders following the Cole County order and told districts to “stop relying on, enforcing, or publicizing any such orders immediately.” 

“Failure to follow the court’s judgment may result in enforcement action against you to remove orders the court has determined are unconstitutional and illegal. We encourage you to take immediate action to remove all unconstitutional and illegal orders,” Schmitt said. 

Despite Schmitt’s insistence that school districts halt COVID-19 mandates, there remains some confusion about what schools can actually do. 

Rep. Bill Hardwick, an attorney who represents part of Pulaski County in the legislature, said Green’s order did not nullify health orders enacted by the General Assembly or local elected bodies, including school boards. 

However, the order did say, according to Hardwick: 

“The health department can’t compel that school district to have a mask requirement anymore. But that school district may receive an insurance premium, and that coverage and that coverage and that rate is based on following guidance from some health department. … Some school districts may be inclined to follow some of those rules because they have [an] insurance purpose or maybe they have a funding purpose to continue to have mask rules.” 

And the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA), in an email this week, said while the order impacted orders from local health departments, “a school district’s authority and obligation to prevent the spread of contagious diseases in schools has not been impacted.” 

The email pointed to Missouri statutes that allow for school boards to implement health and safety regulations. 

“MSBA encourages school boards to continue to maintain safe and healthy learning environments for students and staff by consulting advice issued by contagious disease experts such as the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services or the Centers for Disease Control,” the email said. 

Marshall Public Schools updated its guidance this week to rescind its quarantine requirements but encouraged those with symptoms to stay home. 

But 33 districts have received “cease and desist” letters from the attorney general: 

  • Affton School District
  • Brentwood School District
  • Clayton School District
  • Columbia School District
  • Fort Zumwalt School District 
  • Fox C-6 School District 
  • Francis Howell R-III School District
  • Grain Valley R-V School District
  • Hallsville R-III School District
  • Harrisonville R-IX School District
  • Kansas City Public School District
  • Kearney R-I School District
  • Kirkwood R-VII School District
  • Lee’s Summit R-VII School District
  • Liberty School District
  • Lindbergh School District
  • Lone Jack School District
  • McDonald County R-I School District
  • Mehlville R-IX School District
  • North Kansas City Schools
  • Odessa R-VII School District
  • Parkway C-2 School District
  • Platte County R-III School District
  • Ritenour School District
  • Rockwood R-VI School District
  • Sedalia School District
  • Smithville R-II School District
  • Southern Boone County R-I School District
  • Springfield R-XII School District
  • Valley Park School District
  • Webster Groves School District
  • Wentzville School District
  • Willard R-II School District

Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the attorney general, said these school districts had been following the public health departments’ orders and were flagged by parents as part of the office’s request. 

Schmitt is also a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri.

(This list will be updated if the Attorney General’s Office sends more letters to additional school districts.)