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Schmitt takes another step to block mask mandates in public schools

Attorney General Eric Schmitt sought to block school mask mandates from going into effect with a new motion filed in court Friday. 

Schmitt filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent Columbia Public Schools’ mask mandate and others like it from being enforced, citing the new state law requiring approval from governing bodies for a health order to extend beyond 30 days. 

The injunction asks the court to tell schools not to enforce 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 earlier this week, but Schmitt argued the mask mandate was not included in the plan, putting the district out of compliance with the new law. 

“Forcing children to wear masks in school all day long flies in the face of science and could hinder crucial development by eliminating facial cues and expressions,” Schmitt said. “We filed this case 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. We plan to continue to aggressively litigate this case moving forward.”

The lawsuit specifically names Columbia Public Schools (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. 

Schmitt also filed a class certification in an effort to bring the challenge to every school enforcing a mandate in Missouri.

The lawsuit, filed in Boone County Circuit Court, named CPS, its board, and its superintendent as defendants.

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.” 

His challenge has become a selling point for his U.S. Senate bid, with s 30-second spot from a PAC supportive of Schmitt airing in cable markets in Cape Girardeau and Springfield. Schmitt also addressed the challenge on Sunday’s episode of “This Week in Missouri Politics.”

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 opposed several reinstated health ordinances, including those in St. Louis and Jackson counties. He is also primed to file suit against the Biden administration over its proposed vaccination mandates for employers with more than 100 workers, he told The Missouri Times this week. 

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