After Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced that schools statewide must abandon all COVID-19 protocols, big changes await schools that are now unsure where they stand.
According to a Missouri Independent article Missouri Judge Strikes Down Local Health Officials’ Power to Impose COVID-19 Orders by political reporter Jason Hancock, Daniel Green, Circuit Court Judge for Cole Country, determined that administered COVID-19 prevention tactics were against the Missouri Constitution.
In response to this court case, Schmitt has threatened legal action against those who continue to apply COVID-19 regulations in schools during the pandemic in a letter to Missouri Public School Districts. Schmitt wrote, “Failure to follow the court’s judgment may result in enforcement action against you to remove orders the court has determined are unconstitutional and illegal.”
In his letter addressed to “Missouri Local Public Health Agencies,” Schmitt declared, “…all mask mandates, quarantine orders, and other public health orders that are based on any of the invalidated regulations or issued outside the protections of the Missouri Administrative Procedure Act are null and void.” This alludes to massive changes in COVID-19 protocols not only in Missouri’s school districts, but to the whole state.
Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services reports on school district communities’ COVID-19 cases; on their website (source attached below), they showed that in the Fair Grove R-X school district, there have been 93 cumulative positive cases from ages 5-19.
Fair Grove’s Middle and High School Nurse, Brandy Cantwell, believes that Fair Grove Schools may see an increase in COVID-19 numbers. “We have seen the effectiveness of quarantines since COVID began and I think if students and parents don’t continue to follow those recommendations on their own, we could see a big uptick as we continue to go into the winter months,” Nurse Cantwell explained. “As far as how much, I cannot predict that. All we can do is look back on last year to guess, but that was before the vaccines were available.”
According to Eagle’s Eye article Reopening Procedures Released: Fair Grove Will Continue Through COVID-19 by Mitch Van Cleave, after Fair Grove Schools’ dismissal after spring break of 2020, the following 2020-2021 school year required a mask mandate and social distancing. Emma Schlak (11), a student who attended Fair Grove School’s at the time of the pandemic, noticed that bus rides were separated into families and there was one child per seat.
With COVID-19 protocols being eliminated, Fair Grove Schools’ policies will likely see some changes. “We still have an illness policy in place that we use when making decisions to send students home. So when we have a student who tests positive, I will still notify any students and/or their parents who would be considered close contacts of the exposure like I have always done and encourage them to quarantine or watch for symptoms,” Nurse Cantwell informed. “And if a student who previously would have been required to be quarantined, but elects not to, comes in sick, they will be sent home just like anyone else.”
Chloe Marlow (12) is a student at Fair Grove High School. Marlow’s grandfather has pancreatic cancer, which makes him a high risk individual. “Lifting these mandates or orders in place that were initially created to protect those at risk – until the epidemic was made out to be a violation of personal constitutional rights – is completely ignorant and will affect everybody eventually,” Marlow expressed. Worried about her family’s health, Marlow is opposed to Schmitt’s announcement. On the other hand, Glendale student Anna Baker (12) believes the lift of protocols to be a good thing.
Baker’s grandmother has lung cancer; in an effort to keep her safe and healthy, Baker’s whole family has gotten vaccinated. Baker shared how her cousin’s school has been mask free and that her cousin hasn’t gotten covid, so she doesn’t believe it will affect her grandmother’s health. Baker also commented, “I honestly think that taking the mask mandate away in my school will not really affect our Covid numbers that much. We are no longer socially distancing and I know that a lot of students are not wearing their mask correctly anyways, so I don’t think it will change much.” Baker believes that school’s returning to their normal state will be a good thing for students and that people have been more cautious with their illnesses.
The Springfield R-XII school district has a reported 3,808 cumulative COVID-19 cases in ages 5-19, a minimum of 41 of those cases being in the past 14 days, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services website (source attached below).
Springfield Public Schools has responded to Schmitt’s letter with a letter of their own addressed to “SPS Staff and Families.” Previously having a plan to remove their mask mandates in January, SPS’s plan remains unchanged. Until the end of semester on December 22, COVID-19 precautions and protocols will remain in place. The letter also reads, “A full review by attorneys for Missouri public school districts, including SPS, is currently underway.”
Kickapoo student Johon Soppo (12) believes that lifting protocols is a good thing as it allows students to not “be in such a strict environment.” However, Soppo also believes his school’s COVID-19 numbers will rise, “…because the majority of students don’t really take care of themselves.”
Not every school is accepting Schmitt’s announcement as something to take immediate action upon. According to Fox 2 Now article Schmitt Demands Missouri School Districts Halt COVID Protocols Immediately by award winning journalist Dan Gray, “The Parkway School District released a statement to parents saying said it would keep COVID protocols in place and discuss the matter at a Dec. 15 school board meeting. The Rockwood School District said it had received the letter and would keep mitigation strategies in place until its lawyers reviewed the letter.” The Parkway School District has had a cumulative 2,078 COVID-19 cases and the Rockwood School District has had COVID-19 cases accumulating to 2,286.
As stated by USA Facts, Missouri has had a reported total of 930,452 COVID-19 cases and 15,547 COVID-19 related deaths. An article from the Missouri Independent by Tessa Weinberg and Rebecca Rivas titled Missouri Attorney General Tells Schools, Health Departments to end COVID Orders read, “The ruling has led to confusion for local health departments as to what authority they still retain to issue public health measures, like mask mandates, to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases and keep kids from going to school if sick.”
As school district’s across Missouri decide their plan for COVID-19 protocols in response to Schmitt’s announcement, many students wait anxiously to see how it affects their school year. Nurse Cantwell expressed, “I would still encourage anyone who is exposed to quarantine as a precaution or wear a mask if you choose to do so. I think we need to continue to move forward but also just remember to think of others when making decisions to be at school or not.”
(Editor’s note: The Fair Grove school board will likely re-evaluate and approve any plan on December 15th, so while the above reporting is accurate, the full affects of the above decisions on Fair Grove schools remain to be seen. The nature of reporting on Covid-19 inherently is that the numbers and policies are often being updated.)
Gray, Dan. “Schmitt Demands Missouri School Districts Halt COVID Protocols Immediately.” Fox 2 Now, 7 Dec. 2021, https://fox2now.com/news/missouri/schmitt-demands-missouri-school-districts-halt-covid-protocols-immediately/. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021.
Hancock, Jason. “Missouri Judge Strikes Down Local Health Officials’ Power to Impose COVID-19 Orders.” Missouri Independent, 23 Nov. 2021, https://missouriindependent.com/2021/11/23/missouri-judge-local-covid-orders/. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021.
Schmitt, Eric. Letter to Missouri Public School Districts. 7 Dec. 2021. https://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/2021-12-7-ltr-mpsde16b9660f337410bb0dd4768c520b2bd.pdf?sfvrsn=9ceb172e_2.
Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services. COVID-19 in School District Communities, 2021, https://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/novel-coronavirus/data/public-health/school-districts.php. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021.
Schmitt, Eric. Letter to Missouri Local Public Health Agencies. 7 Dec. 2021. https://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/2021-12-7-ltr-lpha688c295df61b42c4b30ebdbb4771af1f.pdf?sfvrsn=b1f7183f_2.
Springfield Public Schools. Letter to SPS Staff and Families. 8 Dec. 2021. https://www.sps.org/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=4&ModuleInstanceID=1305&ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=19410&PageID=1.
USA Facts. Missouri Coronavirus Cases and Deaths, 2020, https://usafacts.org/visualizations/coronavirus-covid-19-spread-map/state/missouri. Accessed 10 Dec. 2021.
Van Cleave, Mitch. “Reopening Procedures Released: Fair Grove Will Continue Through COVID-19.” Eagle’s Eye, 26 Jan. 2020,
https://fairgrovenews.com/5466/news/reopening-procedures-released-fair-grove-will-continue-through-covid-19/. Accessed 10 Dec. 2021.
Weinberg, Tessa and Rebecca Rivas. “Missouri Attorney General Tells Schools, Health Departments to end COVID Orders.” Missouri Independent, 7 Dec. 2021, https://missouriindependent.com/2021/12/07/missouri-attorney-general-tells-schools-health-departments-to-end-covid-orders/. Accessed 10 Dec. 2021.