On Jan. 24, the GOP AG sued an additional nine SDs – bringing the total number of districts facing legal action over mask mandates to 45.
"School districts do not have the authority to impose, at their whim, public health orders for their schoolchildren. That is doubly true when the public health order, in this case face masks, creates a barrier to education that far outweighs any speculative benefit," Schmitt said.
The AG elaborated on his lawsuit during an appearance for local St. Louis station FOX 2.
"I think what we know now is there's no data to support that masks are effective. But we do know that there's a mounting body of evidence that shows the psychological and social harms from the forced masking of kids. So we're taking them to court. We're [going to] fight on behalf of parents and the ability of people, individuals and families to make these decisions themselves," he said.
Schmitt cited the COVID-19 statistics of places such as New York City and Los Angeles that implemented mask mandates. These cities saw a spike in COVID-19 cases despite the restrictions. "The fact is cloth masks are ineffective. If you want to do that, go ahead and do it. But you shouldn't force everybody else to do it," he added. (Related: New Jersey state senators argue mask mandate for children is NOT supported by science.)
Meanwhile, the 36 SDs named as defendants in Schmitt's Jan. 21 lawsuit told FOX 2 they are "aware of the suit and consulting their attorneys" on the matter.
Francis Howell SD (FHSD), one of the 36 named in the initial lawsuit, said it has a "legal right to establish mask mandates" in schools under its jurisdiction. Jeanie Smith, communications director for the district, said in a statement: "We have consulted with our legal counsel and are confident that our Board of Education has the authority to establish mask requirements and other [COVID-19] mitigation measures."
Smith also took a swipe at the state's top attorney, saying that "the AG is not elected to make decisions for FHSD students and staff. Top officials at the school district also concurred with the statement, calling Schmitt's lawsuit "a waste of taxpayer money." They added that elected officials should be supporting schools instead of suing SDs.
The GOP AG put in his two cents regarding the St. Louis Public SD extending its mask mandate to an additional three weeks. "That's illegal. They don't have the authority to do it. The [Missouri] General Assembly has never given SDs the authority to force the masking of kids and quarantines."
According to Schmitt, SDs can only issue health rules in their schools which are provided by the state legislature. The Missouri General Assembly did not authorize SDs to mandate in-person attendance in classes based on mask-wearing orders, he added.
Schmitt has also challenged mask mandates issued by city and county officials. He earlier sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) against St. Louis County's mask mandate. The order issued Jan. 5 by the county council mandated face masks be worn indoors by those aged five years and older – regardless of vaccination status.
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