(The Center Square) – The day after thousands of children returned to school throughout Missouri, Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a class-action lawsuit against school districts imposing mask mandates as part of a COVID-19 mitigation strategy.
“Forcing school children 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 in a statement. “Additionally, forcing school children to mask all day could hinder critical development by eliminating facial cues and expressions.”
Schmitt, a Republican who’s running for the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, named Columbia Public Schools, the superintendent and the Board of Education for the School District of Columbia as defendants. It was filed in Boone County Circuit Court for Judge J. Hasbrouck Jacobs. No date is scheduled for a hearing.
President Joe Biden called the lawsuit “unacceptable,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during Tuesday’s press briefing.
“We’ve seen, including recently I think today or yesterday in Missouri, additional steps taken that, in our view, put more kids at risk,” Psaki said. “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. … The President has directed him to use every authority to ensure we are protecting kids across the country.”
Columbia Public Schools expressed disappointment in the attorney general’s lawsuit in a statement provided to Missourinet.
“The decision to file suit against a public school district after a local decision is made in the interest of safety and keeping students in school will waste taxpayer dollars and resources, which are better spent investing in our students,” wrote Michelle Baumstark, chief communications officer. “Columbia Public Schools intends to aggressively defend its decision to keep its community and its scholars safe.”
Clay Dunagan, leader of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and senior vice president and chief clinical officer for BJC HealthCare, the largest health system in Missouri, didn’t comment on the lawsuit during his weekly news briefing on Tuesday, but affirmed the practice of masking in schools.
“There is some controversy circulating about whether masks interfere with education. While there’s clearly some barrier to social interaction and maybe a little bit harder to understand people when they have a mask on, those interferences with education are not nearly (as bad as) what one sees if you have to quarantine a school or shut down a school district down because of rapid spread of the virus,” Dunagan said. “So there is no question from a scientific basis or from a public basis that masking in schools is a prudent step to take at this particular point in time.”
Schmitt’s lawsuit doesn’t seek monetary damages, only a judgment. It claims the law and facts presented by other school districts mandating masks allows the court to rule for all Missouri school districts. It also states separate actions against each district would create the risk of inconsistent judgments and establish incompatible standards for districts throughout the state.
As the delta variant caused a rise in infections throughout the nation during the last two months, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control on Aug. 4 updated its guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12.
“The CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status,” according to its website. “Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.”
Schmitt’s lawsuit states the mask mandates are arbitrary, capricious and unlawful. The 31-page filing also cites a medical study from the Netherlands stating children have a low risk of transmitting the virus to other children. It cites the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control as stating wearing a surgical mask failed to show significant benefits. It also cites the World Health Organization stating masking raises social and communication concerns with children.
The lawsuit argues children are at an extremely low risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Dunagan reported 21 patients younger than 18 – including 11 younger than 12, the age limit for a COVID-19 vaccination – were hospitalized in the region. Seven of the hospitalized children were in intensive care units.
“It’s important to note many (children) hospitalized have underlying medical conditions and a majority of the kids who get COVID won’t wind up in the hospital,” Dunagan said. “But some children might have prolonged symptoms. It is hardly a benign disease.”
Earlier this month, the attorney general filed lawsuits against St. Louis City and County, Kansas City and Jackson County for imposing mask mandates. A new regulation signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson was cited in those cases and in the three-count suit against Columbia Schools. House Bill 271 prohibits a political subdivision making a public health order for closing businesses, churches, schools and other places of private or public assembly or limiting attendance for more than 30 calendar days in a 180-day period. During circuit court hearings in Schmitt’s suit against St. Louis County, lawyers argued mask mandates don’t fall under the restrictions of business closures.
Originally Appeared Here