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Despite Attorney General’s warnings, Springfield Public Schools to keep mask mandate until at least Christmas break

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 6:39 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - On the same day that Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sent out a news release asking parents around the state to contact him if they know of any school district trying to enforce mask mandates and quarantines, the Springfield Public School District announced it was keeping its mask mandate in place until at least the Christmas break, which runs from Dec. 23-January 3.

All this adds to a brewing conflict between the state and Missouri’s largest public school district (24,500 students) that picked up momentum on Tuesday when Schmitt sent a letter to school districts and health departments all across the state informing them that a November Cole County Circuit Court ruling determined that both schools and local health departments have no rights to enact or enforce mask mandates or quarantine orders.

“Springfield Public, for example, they don’t have the ability to issue their own mask mandate,” Schmitt said in an interview with KY3 on Tuesday. “And they’ve gone well beyond that.”

On Wednesday, after several hours of meetings, SPS responded.

“This is one opinion issued by the Attorney General and there are many opinions regarding this matter,” said Stephen Hall, SPS’ Chief Communications Officer. “There is great disagreement over the implications of the Cole County, Missouri case, especially disagreement related to any implications for school districts. School districts were not named in that litigation. So as the other school districts are reviewing this opinion so will we and that legal review will continue.”

Even before Schmitt’s letter SPS had plans to lift its mask mandate in January after students returned to classes from Christmas break.

That is still the plan now.

“We have stated multiple times that we intend to remove the masking requirement in January after our youngest students have had ample opportunity to receive vaccinations and develop full immunity to COVID-19,” Hall explained. “It’s important to note that the court case has a 30-day window before it would take effect. That takes us to December 23rd. So we do not anticipate that there will be any changes to our current pandemic protocols before the end of this semester.”

But the Attorney General’s opinion has already become a call for action to those who want to see the mask mandates lifted.

There are a couple of groups who have been involved in that effort known as “Springfield Parents for Optional Masks” and “Springfield Parents Speak Out” and on Wednesday a group of moms came to SPS’ offices to make their opinions known after sending their children to school without masks and getting calls from principals.

“SPS had the opportunity to review with their legal counsel and I believe the parents should have that opportunity too while we’re doing our best to follow what we believe to be true from the Attorney General’s office,” said Emily Smith, one of the moms who met with school officials. “We were told things like our children would be getting write-ups and that they are violating dress code policy. It’s not in that policy.”

“We treat that as such because there are expectations that individuals come to school and comply with the dress code,” Hall replied. “If masking is a part of those requirements and students are not complying then we follow our board policy.”

“One of the students was locked out of his classroom,” Smith said of another incident.

“That is the protocol,” Hall explained. “When they’re not compliant they will be supervised in an area that allows for social distancing and that is for their protection as well as for those around them.”

“We were also told that at any point today or tomorrow if we refuse to pick our children up or just choose not to they will have to file a DFS report for negligence,” Smith said.

“That would be a case-by-case situation about what is happening at that time,” Hall responded. “But we would expect for there to be compliance and for parents to supervise their children when the school requests for them to intervene.”

So the differing opinions will no doubt continue as SPS and the Attorney General obviously don’t see eye-to-eye.

“There are many things that are problematic and concerning about the Attorney General’s opinion and actions as of late,” Hall said. “Because we hear a lot of conversation about the importance of local control and then you see this opinion and these actions in the midst of a global pandemic when people are working very hard to protect the health of the most vulnerable people in our population.”

Hall did say that SPS is looking at all its options including litigation of its own.

As for the SPS COVID-19 case numbers?

Week before Thanksgiving:

Students-29 cases

Staff-5

Week after Thanksgiving:

Students-71 cases

Staff-20

That’s the highest case count in the district since January 3-9.

Springfield Public Schools released this statement also responding to the attorney general.

On numerous occasions, SPS has publicly stated our intent to remove the district’s current masking requirement in January - once our youngest students have had an opportunity to be fully vaccinated. Our intention remains unchanged.

Yesterday, school districts and public health agencies across Missouri received a letter from the Missouri Attorney General with significant implications for how school districts and local communities are able to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This opinion is based on the Attorney General’s interpretation of a decision that involved the Department of Health and Senior Services. That decision was issued by the Circuit Court in Cole County, Missouri on November 22, 2021.

First, there is a 30-day period before this decision becomes final. Consequently, there is no final judgment in this case until December 23. Furthermore, there is significant disagreement about how and if the Cole County decision even applies to public schools. A full review by attorneys for Missouri public school districts, including SPS, is currently underway.

In the meantime, the district’s COVID-19 health protocols remain unchanged through the end of the first semester on December 22. Once the legal review is complete, SPS will determine if modifications to our pandemic response are needed and if so, will communicate that to you directly as soon as possible.

As the pandemic continues, we remain focused on providing five days of quality, in-person learning in a safe, healthy environment for all students.

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