The Missouri Attorney General’s Office is suing 45 K-12 public school districts around the state for what it calls illegally enforcing mask mandates. Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, cites a recent Cole County Court ruling he says does not give school districts the authority to impose public health orders.

Missouri School Boards’ Association Executive Director Melissa Randol

All of Missouri’s charter schools have mask requirements but Schmitt has not filed lawsuits against them.

Melissa Randol, executive director of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, tells Missourinet state statutes give the local school board the authority to make health and safety rules.

“This has been on the books for decades,” says Randol, who heads the organization representing the largest group of elected leaders in Missouri. “Our legal obligation is to ensure that children are not staying in our school when they’re, you know when they can transmit that virus or disease to other people. We have to do everything we can to mitigate that spread to other individuals, whether it be students or our staff.”

Randol goes on to say these state statutes show a school board has control of the district it represents:

https://revisor.mo.gov/main/OneSection.aspx?section=171.011, https://revisor.mo.gov/main/OneSection.aspx?section=162.471, https://revisor.mo.gov/main/OneSection.aspx?section=160.011.

Since the beginning of January, at least 62 Missouri school districts have had to temporarily close because of the spread of the coronavirus.

“We know that when our doors are closed, that creates a hardship for parents and we don’t serve our children in the best way possible. We’re having a difficult time, as you know, keeping our schools open right now because of the lack of sufficient staff. There’s so many sick with this current variation of the illness,” she says. “We don’t like to mask. The very last thing we enjoy doing is having mask requirements in our schools. We certainly don’t like to quarantine. But worse than those particular mitigation efforts, we do not like to close our doors. We know that our children are not well served when our doors are closed. So, we’re desperately trying to keep our doors open. And we need help. We’d much rather spend our dollars our taxpayer dollars on solutions for serving our children in the classrooms, rather than on attorneys in courtrooms when there aren’t any solutions that are going to come out of that that benefit kids.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt briefs Capitol reporters in Jefferson City in September 2019 (Missourinet file photo)

Randol says she has requested to meet with Schmitt to find ways to solve these challenges.

“If you don’t like the masks, then tell us what to do. We don’t like the masks, but we don’t have a better solution that’s been presented to us from health care providers. You know, we’re educators, we’re not medical professionals. I’m an attorney,” she says. “I didn’t go to medical school. So we have to rely on those individuals who have the expertise in this area and what they’re telling us is there certain practices that will help us mitigate the exposure to this and slow down the spread.”

Missourinet has requested an interview with the attorney general about his lawsuits. This story will be updated if Schmitt’s office responds.

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