A Boone County judge denied Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s motions to immediately block mask requirements in all K-12 public schools in the state. The two-part request targeted Columbia Public Schools and asked for the injunction and the pending lawsuit to apply to all Missouri public schools.
Attorneys representing Columbia Public Schools found themselves in the unusual, unofficial position of having to argue on behalf of the other districts that do or might impose mask requirements. Attorneys said it “made no sense that one court, one judge to adjudicate one issue” for local jurisdictions who had their own reasons to impose mask-wearing.
The attorney general will now “aggressively pursue discovery” [pre-trial gathering of evidence and information] in the case against Columbia schools. The state attorneys will eventually decide whether to make cases against individual school districts “to show how bureaucrats have incessantly moved the goalposts to justify never-ending restrictions and mask mandates,” according to spokesman Chris Nuelle.
Despite today’s decisions, the legal issue is whether school districts are abiding by a new state law that puts a series of restrictions on how a local health order can be made and for how long.
Tuesday’s hearing was a preview of some of the arguments to come. Columbia Public Schools attorneys said that with the surge of the COVID-19 delta variant, masks are one temporary mitigation of many suggested to them by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services as well as the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
School district attorney, Natalie Hoernschemeyer, told Judge Brouck Jacobs that the court must consider all the measures put into place or consider none of them, and that the attorney general is cherrypicking the mask rule. Fellow counsel Grant Wiens outlined the months-long process leading to the district’s decision, including the realization that the virus variant “is more problematic…a different pandemic” than the one addressed in the attorney general’s argument.
Solicitor General John Sauer argued in the filing, and in the courtroom, that CPS did not consider “a large swath of relevant science” about the masking of schoolchildren in making its decision, but if the district wants to mask, “go comply with the statute.”
He said that, instead, CPS and other districts displayed “systematic non-compliance with the law.”