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Schmitt joins fight against Jefferson County school quarantine orders

Attorney General Eric Schmitt backed a lawsuit challenging Jefferson County’s school quarantine rules this week, the latest move in his fight against certain COVID-19 health orders

The county requires unmasked students who have come in close contact with a positive case to quarantine for 14 days regardless of test results if not fully vaccinated. The lawsuit, filed earlier this month, seeks to stop the health department from enforcing the rule on students. 

Schmitt filed a brief in the lawsuit Monday, arguing the 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 lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Jefferson County parents who said the order could have negative impacts on their children and other students. 

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.

“The most important thing is to try to keep our students and teachers safely in the classroom for physical and mental health, but we also recognize that the Delta variant is vastly different than the original strain of COVID-19,” Public Health Preparedness Supervisor Jeana Vidacak said. 

Schmitt has filed lawsuits over similar orders imposed by communities, challenging reinstated mask mandates in St. Louis, Kansas City, Jackson County, and Columbia Public Schools. While a judge sided with Schmitt in his challenge over St. Louis County’s mask ordinance, a new one took its place last month with another lawsuit from Schmitt filed shortly thereafter. 

Jefferson County reported 411 new COVID-19 cases last week. More than 43 percent of the county’s population is fully vaccinated, with nearly 49 percent receiving at least an initial dose. 

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