KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s Attorney General Eric Smitt sent cease and desist orders to dozens of school districts across the state this week. The letters warn the districts may face legal action if they continue to enforce COVID-19 related mask mandates and quarantines.
The letters come following a decision by a Cole County Circuit Court. Schmitt, a Republican running for U.S. Senate in Missouri, said the ruling determined mask mandates, quarantines and other public health orders are illegal.
But others argue the ruling from Judge Daniel Green struck down the state health department’s power to give local health departments authority to issue COVID-19 restrictions because they’re unelected officials. Under this interpretation, it wouldn’t apply to districts where the school board voted on its mask mandate.
But Schmitt’s cease and desist orders have led to some confusion and different responses from Kansas City area school districts.
Parents, too, are wrestling with the impact of Schmitt’s letters to districts and health departments.
Lyreesha Miller lives in Platte County and has three school-aged kids. She said she’s followed the rules and got her family vaccinated.
She also feels COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be going away. So while she’s doing her best to protect her family, she appreciates that quarantine rules seem to be on their way out.
“It’s an undue hardship for parents because, in our household, both parents work. We work full-time, and we work day-shifts, same hours. There’s no one to be at home with our children if they were to be exposed. So I kind of think we should get back to a sense of normalcy here,” Miller said.
Other parents who spoke to FOX4 said that they would prefer caution, keeping quarantine and masking rules in effect to protect the health of students and families.
However, the situation is changing very quickly. Here’s how school districts are responding:
Kansas City Public Schools
Kansas City Public Schools confirms it received a cease and desist order from Schmitt’s office. The district said it is working on its response.
Lee’s Summit School District
The Lee’s Summit School District said it disagrees with the claims in the letter it received from the attorney general.
The district said it will be responding through its legal counsel and is prepared to defend in court its duty under Missouri law to protect the health and safety of its students and staff.
North Kansas City School District
The North Kansas City School District confirmed it received a cease and desist order from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office. The school district said it has notified parents and guardians of the order.
Despite the order, North Kansas City Schools said it will continue following its established COVID-19 protocols. The district said the protocols have gone through a legal review and said it determined no immediate change is necessary at this time.
However, the current ordinance for mask mandates in schools approved by the Kansas City, Missouri City Council is set to expire on Jan. 1, 2022. The district said it does not anticipate an extension of that ordinance. As a result, the district said masks will no longer be required for students, staff and patrons after winter break.
Masks will still be required on all school buses until a federal mandate expires March 18.
Ray-Pec School District
The Cass County Health Department announced changes to its quarantine protocol. Effectively immediately, it will not enforce quarantines of students or staff who have been exposed to COVID-19.
The health department’s changes are also impacting the Ray-Pec School District. In a letter to parents, the district said any student or staff currently in quarantine has the option to discontinue that quarantine. The school district said all students and staff in quarantine have been notified of the change.
The school district said it plans to continue to use contact tracing and will notify parents and guardians if children have been exposed.
The Ray-Pec School District still requires students or staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 to stay at home.
Platte County School District
The Platte County Health Department is also complying with the attorney general’s demands, one of many across Missouri, particularly in rural counties.
As a result, the health department told the Platte County School District it “cannot provide consultation to schools regarding quarantine, except for directing schools to other sources.”
The health agency also can’t issue quarantine orders for those who have been exposed to COVID but haven’t tested positive.
However, the school district’s board voted last month to extend its mask mandate through the end of the semester for all students and staff.
Odessa School District
Odessa was one of several school districts to receive a letter from the attorney general.
District leaders quickly updated their COVID protocols to drop their mask mandate this week.