Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to stop school districts from enforcing mask mandates, requirements aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The action drew a rebuke from President Joe Biden, who finds such lawsuits “unacceptable,” his press secretary said Tuesday.
The lawsuit names Columbia Public Schools along with the district’s Board of Education and board members, but is a class action lawsuit that “would apply to school districts across the state that have a mask mandate for schoolchildren,” said Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for Schmitt.
The new school year began Monday in several districts across the state, and with the delta variant causing a big spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, more than four dozen districts are requiring students, teachers and staff to wear face coverings. The lawsuit filed by Schmitt, a Republican, cites the low death rate among school aged children.
“We filed this suit today 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,” Schmitt said in a news release.
President Joe Biden’s believes lawsuits such as Schmitt’s put more children at risk, press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
“The president thinks that’s completely unacceptable and he has asked his secretary of education, directed I should say, his secretary of education to use all of his authority to help those school districts doing the right thing to ensure every one of their students has access to a fundamental right of safe in-person learning,” Psaki said. “This could include a number of considerations but I’ll let the secretary to speak to them.”
Columbia school district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the district is “extremely disappointed” that Schmidt filed the lawsuit. She said the mask mandate is “not a forever decision” but is currently necessary to keep students safe.
“The decision to file suit against a public school district after a local decision is made in the interest of safety and keeping students in school will waste taxpayer dollars and resources, which are better spent investing in our students. Columbia Public Schools intends to aggressively defend its decision to keep its community and its scholars safe.”
Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat, said in a statement that schools may be forced to close if Schmitt’s lawsuit is successful and outbreaks occur. She also noted that Schmitt is running for U.S. Senate in 2022.
“This lawsuit might help Schmitt win a Republican U.S. Senate primary, but it puts the lives and education of Missouri children in jeopardy,” Quade said.
Schmitt successfully sued to stop St. Louis County’s mask mandate. He has also filed suits against mask requirements in St. Louis city, Kansas City and Jackson County.
Southwestern Missouri has been the epicenter of this summer’s outbreak of COVID-19. But since the delta variant of the virus began its rampage in June, cases have spread across the state. Now, the Bootheel region of southeast Missouri is under siege.
Information on Missouri’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that six of the 12 counties with the highest seven-day rates of new cases are in the southeast — Scott, New Madrid, Mississippi, Madison, Jackson and Perry counties.
Cape Girardeau’s two hospitals are treating a combined 76 COVID-19 patients, including 24 in intensive care units, according to information from St. Francis Medical Center and Southeast Hospital.
The death toll continues to rise with another 170 deaths reported by the state health department. Of them, 143 were the result of a weekly review of death certificates. One of those deaths was in May, two were in June, 35 were in July and 105 were earlier in August. The state also cited 27 new deaths, and 1,770 newly confirmed cases. Missouri has reported 618,022 COVID-19 cases overall.
A central Missouri mayor meanwhile pushed for his friend to be given an anti-parasite drug not approved for treating COVID-19.
The Kansas City Star reported that Lake Ozark Mayor Dennis Newberry wrote on Facebook Monday that the friend should be allowed to take ivermectin in a last-ditch effort to save him.
“Please pray for cooperation from his caregivers and hospital admin to allow his loved ones and friends to step in and assist with his life. If we do nothing his life will surely be taken from his 18 year old son, his family and friends,” Newberry wrote.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved ivermectin to treat some parasitic worms and for head lice and skin conditions in humans, and other preparations of the drug are used to treat and prevent parasites in horses. The FDA has not approved ivermectin for treating or preventing COVID-19.
By Tuesday morning, Newberry’s post had been removed. A phone message left with Newberry wasn’t immediately returned.
An estimated 300,000 people attended the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia over the 10-day period that ended Sunday, but just 53 took advantage of an on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinic, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“Obviously we’d love to have vaccinated 1,000 people,” Pettis County Health Administrator JoAnn Martin told the Post-Dispatch. “But we are glad we made the effort.”