Columbia schools ask judge to dismiss Missouri AG lawsuit to block mask rule • Missouri Independent


School districts are not subject to the law that Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt uses to challenge warrants for masks in classrooms, Columbia Public School attorneys wrote in a court file asking for the dismissal of legal action initiated last month.

The district also challenges Schmitt’s standing to bring a lawsuit, argues that he misapplies a law on administrative rules, and says the law limiting public health orders is unconstitutional.

“By simply trying to bring this litigation, the attorney general has taken a staggering series of astonishing decisions”, indicates the file written by a team of lawyers led by Natalie Hoernschemeyer of the law firm Mickes O’Toole.

Schmitt filed a complaint on August 24, the day classes began in Colombia. Since that date, the state has reported 12,074 cases of COVID-19 in children under the age of 18. This is about 25% of cases during this period and triple the rate of cases among children in the first month of school in 2020, when many districts provided only virtual education.

The deposit is the last one expected before a hearing Tuesday before circuit judge Brouck Jacobs. At that hearing, Jacobs will hear the attorney general’s office arguing for a preliminary injunction blocking mask rules in any school district in the state. It will also consider the arguments on the motion to dismiss the entire case.

Along with the school district’s response, the Missouri ACLU has requested to intervene on behalf of three disabled children who face a higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. And a Springfield attorney, Joseph Miller, has filed a friend of the court case on behalf of his child, a Springfield public school student.

Citing a new law aimed at limit the scope and duration of local public health ordinances, Schmitt’s lawsuit alleges that Columbia’s public schools failed to follow proper procedure to create a rule requiring masks. Schmitt also argues that the legal process to create an administrative rule was not followed by the district.

In the preliminary injunction motion filed Friday, Schmitt’s office argued that the Columbia Board of Education Unanimous vote of September 13 to approve the administration’s COVID-19 reopening plan did not meet the requirements of the new law. The vote should have taken place on September 12 or earlier, the motion says, and because it was not specifically a vote to approve a mask rule, it did not meet the requirements for extending health orders. .

The attorney general’s choice to pick the mask requirement out of the rest of the district’s COVID mitigation measures shows just how illogical his claims are under review.

– Natalie Hoernschemeyer, lawyer representing Columbia Public Schools

The requirement for masks in Columbia schools is not a public health order, Hoernschmeyer wrote. This is an internal mitigation measure, applicable only to schools, and any student who is unwilling or unable to wear a mask is eligible to receive online instruction until the requirement is revoked. , she wrote.

This is part of a larger plan to control the spread of COVID-19, she wrote.

“The Attorney General’s choice to select the mask requirement from among the rest of the district’s COVID mitigation measures shows just how illogical his claims are under review,” Hoernschemeyer wrote. “If the attorney general wishes to argue that the district mask requirement alone is an ‘order’, then so must the requirements that students socially distance themselves, wash their hands and sit down. in assigned seats. “

Schmitt is seeking an order from Jacobs declaring that all school districts that have rules on masks are part of an accused class. The original dossier estimated that 50 of the state’s more than 500 districts required masks in their buildings. An exhibit filed with the injunction motion named 20 districts where masks are mandatory.

If Jacobs grants the injunction, the orders issued in the case will apply to any district in the state currently requiring masks for admission to school buildings.

In the motion for revocation, Hoernschemeyer wrote that the laws governing schools allow for the mask rule. The administrative procedures law cited by Schmitt has never been applied to school districts, she wrote, and the attorney general’s office has never attempted to file a class action lawsuit against a group of defendants.

“The global pandemic created by COVID-19 and its ongoing variants is unprecedented,” Hoernschemeyer wrote. “The attorney general, however, should not be allowed to use the cover of unprecedented circumstances to usurp unprecedented power for his office.”

Hoernschemeyer did not return any messages seeking comment on the court case.

In the Missouri ACLU’s request for intervention, General Counsel Tony Rothert wrote that the interests of children with disabilities are not adequately represented by Columbia schools. The district’s reasons for a mask requirement are varied, he notes, and include protecting particularly vulnerable children. But the district is also considering the health of employees, the cost of finding replacements for sick teachers, and pressure from parents who would be unable to work and supervise their children if the district was unable to provide education in the classroom. anybody.

The three cases cited by Rothert are a kindergarten child in the Blue Springs School District who suffers from cystic fibrosis, which damages the lungs; a sixth-grade child in the Park Hill School District receiving chemotherapy for an autoimmune disease; and a fifth grade student in St. Louis public schools with microcephaly who suffers from seizures and has a history of pneumonia.

All three would be at risk for serious COVID-19 illness if they attended face-to-face classes with unmasked children, Rothert wrote.

“If the state succeeds in this action, students will be excluded from participating in public education or, at a minimum, they and their parents will have to choose between risking their physical health and their lives by attending school in person or their education, mental health and development by finding a distance learning option, ”Rothert wrote.

Banning mask requirements in schools could violate federal laws directing districts to provide education to students with disabilities, Rothert wrote.

Miller, the Springfield attorney, wrote that the best thing for the state is to close the case as quickly as possible. He has shot Schmitt several times, who is one of many contenders for a hotly contested Republican primary for the US Senate in 2022.

“Both those who support the mask mandates and those who oppose them are poorly served by a lawsuit that inflames existing political divisions but has no chance of success,” Miller wrote.


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