The Missouri State Treasurer’s Office has informed some K-12 school districts that if they want to use a low-interest bond program through the state, they must agree to abide by a recent court ruling about COVID-19 protocols.
That court ruling, issued by Cole County Circuit judge Daniel Green, invalidated any public health mandates issued without approval from locally elected officials. Public health department leaders are not elected. School board members are.
In response to the court decision, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate, has ordered all local public health departments and school districts to stop enforcing mask mandates and quarantines, effective immediately. The ruling takes effect on December 22.
Missouri State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick has taken a step through his office to enforce the court ruling. His office has sent letters to a few school districts seeking low-interest bonds through the state.
Some school districts have bond issues to make upgrades at their schools. Fitzpatrick tells Missourinet through MOHEFA (Missouri Higher Education Facilities Authority), the state and school districts can enter into an agreement in which the state makes payments to bond holders on behalf of the participating school districts. A new layer in that agreement requires school superintendents to sign off on a document saying they are following the court’s order.
This applies to any pending agreements.
So far, Fitzpatrick says his office has sent the document to Warren County R-3 School District, Lone Jack, North Platte, Affton and Hannibal 60 school district.
“There have been several school districts that have publicly said they are not going to follow the Attorney General’s directive on that,” says Fitzpatrick. “We are concerned about that because, you know, the Attorney General’s Office has essentially said that districts that aren’t compliant with that are going to face litigation and enforcement action from the Attorney General’s Office. And so, we felt a responsibility that if we’re going to enter a finance agreement with the school district to ensure that they are compliant with it, because it gives me concern to enter a financing agreement with the school district that may be subject to litigation from the state and enforcement action from the state. For us, it doesn’t make sense for the state to enter an agreement allowing a district to piggyback off of our credit rating, if simultaneously they’re about to be sued by the state for not complying with, you know, a court order and what the attorney general is, has interpreted as being the law.”
If the districts don’t sign the deal, Fitzpatrick, a Republican who is running for State Auditor, says the districts would likely pay a higher interest rate by relying on their own credit. Or the deal could get delayed until they sign off on the paperwork.
He says Hannibal, Warren County and North Platte have all signed the documents.
“The Attorney General’s Office has received complaints about those districts from parents in those districts prior to these deals closing but I think some of the districts were in the process of unwinding their public health type orders over the last several days and I assume have gotten to a point where they felt comfortable signing the certification,” says Fitzpatrick.
Missourinet asked Fitzpatrick if he has talked to attorneys to ensure he has the legal authority to take this step.
“Well, I did speak to the Attorney General’s Office, we did talk to them about it. We’ve looked at the statute, and, you know, we have a general counsel on our office that looked at the statute. And now in terms of my signing off on these deals is discretionary. It’s my discretion as a state treasurer to do that or not. And, you know, I’m happy to do it as long as we have an assurance that the district’s in compliance and is not at risk of being involved in litigation with the Attorney General’s office over a failure to comply with the court order,” he says.
Jackson County and St. Louis County have asked to intervene in the court case and appeal the ruling or request a new trial because Attorney General Schmitt has refused to appeal it. His office represents the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) in the Shannon Robinson vs. DHSS case.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page says people who spread misinformation and “bully our children and parents are a menace to society.”
Attorney General Schmitt says wearing a mask or getting a vaccine should be a personal decision – never a mandate.
Meanwhile, some Missouri school districts are ending their semester because of increased COVID-19 infection rates. The Missouri Independent reports Polo R-VII School District and South Nodaway R-IV plan to start their holiday vacation earlier than planned.