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Missouri AG files suit to reverse school mask mandates

For many area students, face masks are as much a part of back-to-school supplies as backpacks and notebooks. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, however, has filed a class-action lawsuit in an effort to prevent public schools from implementing mask mandates

The suit comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports there is not a statistically different rate of infection comparing masked and unmasked students.

A New York magazine article reported on the large-scale study of COVID transmission in US schools.

“The study, which analyzed some 90,000 elementary students in 169 Georgia schools from November 16 to December 11, found that there was no statistically significant difference in schools that required students to wear masks compared to schools where masks were optional.”

In fact, the CDC report states, “The 21% lower incidence in schools that required mask use among students was not statistically significant compared with schools where mask use was optional.”

The magazine reports that the CDC’s findings on masks and other preventive measures would not be particularly noteworthy or controversial outside the US. As New York magazine noted, many European nations have exempted students from mask mandates—including the UK, all of Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and even France and Italy—though with varying age cutoffs. The results have not led to outbreaks of Covid.

The overwhelming data has not convinced some districts that the harm from students being in masks eight hours day is an unnecessary burden on students.

Schmitt agrees.

The lawsuit, filed in Boone County Circuit Court, named Columbia Public Schools, its board and superintendent as defendants. The challenge argued the mandate is arbitrary and capricious, saying the “cure should not be worse than the disease.” The 31-page lawsuit alleged masks can be detrimental to children learning communication skills at a critical stage of their development.

“Forcing schoolchildren to mask all day in school flies in the face of science, especially given children’s low risk of severe illness and death and their low risk of transmission,” Schmitt said. “Additionally, forcing schoolchildren to mask all day could hinder critical development by eliminating facial cues and expressions.”

Building on the data from the CDC, tens of thousands of school districts are not requiring masks this month as classes resume. But some districts are.

The attorney general argued mask mandates are not effective and pointed to lower transmission rates among school-aged children. He said masks could hinder social development for young children, particularly with special needs.

The lawsuit asked the court to find the mask requirements unlawful and that they fall under state statute requiring such mandates expire after 30 days without an extension from the board of education. It also asked the court to determine the district does not have the authority to implement a mask mandate. According to a spokesperson for the attorney general, because this is a class-action suit, judgments could apply to other public school districts with mask mandates as well

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden believed the move put schoolchildren at risk.

“The president thinks that’s completely unacceptable, and he has directed his secretary of education to use all his authority to help those school districts doing the right thing to ensure every one of their students has access to a fundamental right of safe in-person learning,” Psaki told reporters.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has left mask ordinances, school closures and other mitigation strategies up to individual school boards based on community positivity rates and in consultation with local health officials. The school year began for many districts across the state this week.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice