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Missouri treasurer asks schools to comply with AG's 'directive' against mask mandates

School districts in the St. Louis area are now facing financial consequences if they continue to require masks.

ST. LOUIS — After Missouri's Attorney General threatened legal action, the state's treasurer now says districts must sign a letter promising to comply with the attorney general's view of the law on mask mandates in schools or lose access to a money-saving state program.

This latest letter to school superintendents about masks comes from Missouri Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick (R).

Fitzpatrick wants superintendents to sign the letter under the penalty of perjury stating they will comply with the attorney general's "directive" to drop all mask mandates.

"If you are going to loan somebody money or cosign a loan for somebody, you probably wouldn't do it if you were also getting ready to sue them," Fitzpatrick told 5 On Your Side. 

Fitzpatrick says before he will allow schools to use the state's credit rating to refinance bonds, he needs to know that they won't face the liability of being sued by Attorney General Eric Schmitt for continuing to require masks.

RELATED: Missouri AG to schools and health departments: Stop enforcing mask mandates, quarantine orders

Which puts some St. Louis area schools in a bind, says Paul Ziegler with the non-profit Education Plus. He says large schools have faced lawsuits before and that's never kept them out of the state program. 

"By approaching this situation this way, ultimately, it's our taxpayers that end up paying more money," said Ziegler. "Sometimes this is millions of dollars that districts can save by going out and taking advantage of the lower interest rates."

Fitzpatrick said, "It would be unfortunate if it ended up costing the district more money. But it's certainly something that they can avoid by simply signing the certification that they're in compliance with the law."

There could be more than compliance at play here says 5 On Your Side political analyst and University of Missouri - St. Louis political science professor Anita Manion. 

Just like his fellow republican attorney general, Treasurer Fitzpatrick is also running for higher office and Manion says both face their toughest battles in their Republican primaries where conservative voters are responding to education issues.

"Education and more so I would say the parent's right to control their children's environment even when they're in school," Manion said.

"Those who hold office use their office as a stepping stone. That's quite common. But, I think part of the difference here is we're seeing areas that are usually bureaucratic offices, nonpartisan offices such as the Department of Health and school boards being pulled into this political battle that COVID has become," she said. 

Fitzpatrick denies any political motivations behind his letter to superintendents.

"We haven't put out any press releases. I haven't been tweeting about this or posting about it," he said. "The press called us and asked us to explain it. And that's what I'm doing here right now."

"This is not about politics. I'm doing it because it's, in my and my opinion, it's the right thing to do and it's the thing that I'm supposed to do as the chief financial officer for the state of Missouri," Fitzpatrick said. 

While Fitzpatrick says some St. Louis area superintendents have already signed the letter it remains to be seen if any will refuse.

RELATED: State requires schools that want bond deals to comply with COVID ruling

Credit: KSDK

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