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AG Eric Schmitt to sue St. Louis-area schools over masks, school leaders say they have right to require them

The attorney general says a judge's ruling makes school mask requirements illegal. Local school boards argue they have the legal standing to require masks.

ST. LOUIS — Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said he is planning to follow through on his threat to sue school districts that require masks.

Tuesday, Schmitt accused nearly every school district in the St. Louis region of defying the law by requiring students and teachers to wear masks at school.

Last year, a Cole County judge struck down mask mandates from local health departments and Schmitt says that ruling applies to schools, too.

"School districts have never been given the authority by the legislature to enact public health orders like mask mandates or quarantine orders - the recent Cole County judgment just further affirms that fact," Schmitt said in a press release.

With omicron setting new records for COVID cases, several school boards have extended their mask mandates beyond the first of the year. And Paul Ziegler with the non-profit Education Plus, which helps schools with their COVID plans, said school boards have that authority.

"If you look at the statutes...it talks about communicable diseases and they have an obligation — school boards, school leaders — to keep kids out of school when they have a disease that's likely to be transmitted," Ziegler said adding another state statue calls for "rules and regulations" school boards are allowed to set which he says could include masks.

Schmitt said in the press release, "It’s far past time that the power to make health decisions concerning children be pried from the hands of bureaucrats and put back into the hands of parents and families and I will take school district after school district to court to achieve that goal.”

Ziegler said for many schools dealing with staffing issues due to COVID, masks are one way to help keep classrooms open.

"People can sue for all sorts of things, that doesn't make it right," he said.

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