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Judge’s Ruling Allows Missouri Schools To Have Mask Mandates — For Now

A photograph of the Boone County Courthouse.
Sarah Kellogg
St. Louis Public Radio
The hearing on the lawsuit involving Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Columbia Public Schools took place at the Boone County Courthouse.

Missouri public school districts can still issue mask mandates after a Boone County judge on Tuesday denied Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s effort to immediately block the mandates throughout the state.

During a three-hour hearing in Columbia, Circuit Judge Brouck Jacobs ruled against Schmitt’s motion for a preliminary injunction and another that sought class-action status for his lawsuit. If granted, it would allow Schmitt to sue other school districts that have implemented mask mandates with the same lawsuit, as opposed to filing against one district at a time.

In speaking for the class-action status, lawyer John Sauer, representing the attorney general’s office, said denying the motion to certify the districts as a singular group would lead to inconsistent standards and results from school district to school district.

Grant Wiens, one of the lawyers for Columbia Public Schools, said it was impossible to group all school districts together because they’re each making specific decisions based on their schools and students.

“The reason why there may be inconsistent responses is because the districts took different actions,” Wiens said.

Schmitt also filed for a preliminary injunction that would have temporarily stopped the Columbia district from requiring masks. Brouck also ruled against that request, meaning the district and others across the state can continue with their COVID-19 protocols, including masks, until the full suit is heard.

During the hearing, Wiens said granting the attorney general’s request for a preliminary injunction would ultimately mean ignoring how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people, especially children, right now.

“Every time masks aren’t worn in schools, the transmission goes up. More kids get sick. More kids get hospitalized,” Wiens said.

Schmitt announced his lawsuit against Columbia and other schools with similar mandates in August. It’s one of a series of lawsuits Schmitt has filed, including in St. Louis and Kansas City, over mask mandates, with many of those cases still pending.

His suit on school-issued mandates, which was specifically against only one school district but included “all others similarly situated,” called the mask mandates implemented “arbitrary and capricious.”

Currently, children under 12 do not have access to a COVID-19 vaccine, and the delta variant has been shown to affect kids more than prior iterations of the coronavirus have. Though some school districts had either relaxed or removed their mandates when the virus appeared to be on the decline, the surge from the delta variant has meant a return to those policies in some cases.

Brouck did rule in Schmitt’s favor in denying a motion from the attorneys for the school district to dismiss the case entirely.

Speaking at the end of the hearing, Sauer said the attorney general’s office is planning on refiling the preliminary injunction request, this time specifically against the Columbia district.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkellogg

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.