Legally speaking, the condition of mask mandates in Missouri is in a pretty screwed-up place. Still, in the wake of a state judge's order deeming all such mandates unconstitutional, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is asking parents to step up and report any schools maintaining the policies.
Basically, Schmitt wants some snitches.
"Parents are sick and tired of the stonewalling from their school districts, and so am I," Schmitt said in a Wednesday press release, which also urged parents to "reach out directly to the Attorney General’s Office if their school district is continuing to enforce mask mandates, quarantines, and other similar COVID-19 public health orders."
The move by Schmitt follows an earlier letter sent to school districts and health departments this week demanding the end of all COVID health orders — and warning that failure to follow the demand "may result in enforcement action against you."
Schmitt has the law on his side, at least on paper: Last month, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Green ruled in a lawsuit that Missouri's constitution did not empower local health departments to impose health mandates related to the ongoing pandemic — policies that would include required masking, quarantining, and the closure of businesses — and declared them to be "null and void."
The ruling has faced some opposition from within the state. As revealed by the Missouri Independent
, the director Department of Health and Human Services asked Schmitt to appeal the Cole County ruling, which would mean defending the department's own regulations that had allowed local health authorities to impose mandates.
As Attorney General, Schmitt represents the state's interests — but in this case, he declined the health director's request
, even though the Attorney General's office had defended the state in the initial lawsuit.
Nevertheless, Schmitt, — who is currently running for a vacant U.S. Senate seat — has vocally opposed health mandates, and has falsely claimed there is no scientific basis
for children to wear masks as a way to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.
But with a judge's order in his arsenal, Schmitt is taking aim at school districts maintaining their mask mandates. He also announced that his office had created a dedicated email inbox, [email protected]
, "to enable parents to voice their concerns freely about continued mask mandates and quarantine orders, and ensure that those concerns are heard and investigated properly."
The Cole County ruling, issued November 23, has yielded mixed reactions from public officials in the region. While longtime critics of mask mandates heralded the ruling as a sign of victory, the school districts and jurisdictions that imposed them have signaled that the situation is not so settled.
In the school districts of Rockwood and Parkway, officials told parents that while they will review their masking policies in light of the Cole County ruling, they have no plans to change their COVID protocols, Fox 2 reported today
In St. Louis County, County Executive Sam Page responded to the ruling by calling it an "uninformed order" and said he still supported mask mandates. Page then vowed to introduce a new mask mandate, but a proposed county-wide mask order proposed at a December 7 meeting of the county council was blocked amid criticism that it would violate the Cole County ruling
In a Facebook post
this afternoon, the City of St. Louis reiterated its position defending its mask mandate, writing, "Our mask mandate is still in effect, please continue to wear your mask to protect the health of yourself and your loved ones."
The post linked to a December 6 statement on the city website. The statement cited Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, the city's Director of Health, who said that COVID is still spreading in St. Louis and that more than 35 percent of eligible residents have still not been vaccinated. Davis said the ongoing risk of outbreak requires the use of "the proven successful virus mitigation strategy of properly wearing masks."
Addressing the Cole County ruling, the city's statement defended its authority to issue health orders.
"The ramifications and ultimate disposition of this ruling is still being determined," the statement said, and added, "the City is utilizing distinct local authority, in accordance and consistent with the requirements of State statute, for the continuing implementation of its Mask Mandate."
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at [email protected]
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