Judge: former Missouri AG had no authority in effort to end school mask mandates

FILE - Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt listens to...
FILE - Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt listens to an attendee at the Governor's Ham Breakfast at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Mo., on Aug. 18, 2022. Schmitt has filed 25 lawsuits in the past 20 months against President Joe Biden's administration, challenging policies on COVID-19 vaccinations, climate change, immigration and education, among other things. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)(Charlie Riedel | AP)
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 3:34 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - A Jackson County judged ruled Friday that former Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt overstepped his authority when he ordered the Lee’s Summit School District to rescind its COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including mask mandates.

Judge Marco Roldan ruled Schmitt had violated Missouri law by ”[inserting] himself” into the district’s efforts to mitigate the pandemic, violating state laws which explicitly grant school districts the authority to impose mask mandates and quarantines “regardless of the disease.”

“There exists no Missouri law allowing the Attorney General to involve himself in a School District’s efforts to manage COVID-19 or other disease within its schools,” Judge Roldan wrote in his 18-page ruling. “He had no authority even to issue an opinion on those matters to the School District.”

Schmitt, a Republican and freshman U.S. Senator, had ordered the Lee’s Summit School District to terminate their mask mandate twice in December 2021, alleging that they had acted unlawfully. Schmitt also sued a number of other school districts within the state who adopted similar mitigation strategies, most of which were either dropped or voluntarily rescinded. The Lee’s Summit School District, however, filed a counterclaim.

Court documents indicate Schmitt had falsely interpreted a November 2021 Cole County ruling that invalidated local and state health departments’ authority to adopt regulations aimed at controlling the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. However, the ruling, which Schmitt used as a basis to exercise authority over local school districts, did not address or determine the validity of local education boards’ authority to adopt regulations controlling disease.

After issuing his first order to Missouri school districts on Dec. 7, Schmitt called on parents via social media, asking them to submit any instances of districts continuing to enforce mask mandates and quarantines. Roldan said these social media posts not only amplified Schmitt’s false statements about the Cole County ruling, but “encouraged parents and students to defy” the authority of the Board of Education.

Schmitt’s second letter on Dec. 9 demanded an immediate cease and desist of all COVID-19 mitigation strategies, which he claimed inhibits students from “exercising their right to a free and open education,” causing an uproar among parents who believed the districts were intentionally violating the law and a court order. Some parents responded to Schmitt’s claims by sending their children to school without masks, accusing districts of breaking the law by enforcing mandates.

Roldan said that neither Schmitt nor his predecessor Andrew Bailey has disavowed the 2021 orders issued to the districts even after the district’s mask mandate expired in February 2022.

“It is thus simply a matter of when, not if, the Attorney General will again order the School District to stop doing something that state law leaves to the discretion of the Board of Education,” Judge Roldan wrote.

Though Schmitt dropped the lawsuit within a few months, the countersuit ruling sets a statewide legal precedent which upholds the authority of school districts to enforce locally decided policies.

“This ruling affirms that Missouri law empowers locally elected School Boards to control district operations,” Lee’s Summit Schools Board of Education President Rodrick Sparks said in a press release. “We’re thankful for this decision and the clarity it provides for our continued efforts to serve our students, staff and community.”