(Missouri Independent) – Former Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt lacked any legal authority to order school districts to end COVID-19 mitigation measures, a Jackson County judge ruled Friday.
In his 18-page decision, Judge Marco Roldan concluded that the attorney general’s office did not follow Missouri law when it demanded last year that Lee’s Summit R-7 School District rescind the measures it put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Schmitt sued Lee’s Summit and 46 other school districts, then amplified his attacks on social media, “encouraging parents and students to defy the authority granted to the board of education by Missouri law,” Roldan wrote.
That led to “even greater confusion than the pandemic had already caused.”
“The attorney general lacked any legal authority to insert himself into the school district’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic,” Roldan wrote.
Schmitt was elected to the U.S. Senate last year, and his lawsuits challenging mask mandates were a major part of his campaign messaging. A spokeswoman for his successor, Attorney General Andrew Bailey, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday’s ruling.
The mask mandate lawsuits were filed in early 2022. Eventually, all were dropped by the attorney general’s office or dismissed by the courts.
Only the Lee’s Summit case survived, as the school district refused to let Schmitt dismiss the case and instead filed its own counterclaim demanding Roldan establish the extent of the attorney general’s authority over local school districts.
In his Friday ruling, Roldan concluded that Schmitt wrongly assumed he had any authority over school districts by relying on a 2021 ruling in Cole County Court that deemed health orders designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 that were issued by local health departments violated the Missouri Constitution.
Roldan noted that no school districts were involved in the 2021 case and the court’s ruling said nothing about the authority of local boards of education under Missouri law.
After ordering school districts to end COVID mitigation measures, Schmitt publicly invited parents across the state to report to him school districts that were in violation of the 2021 court order.
This caused unnecessary confusion, Roldan wrote, by wronging convincing students and parents that their school districts were violating the law.
They were not.
Local school boards should have been able to exercise their authority “free from unlawful interference by the attorney general.”
“There exists no Missouri law allowing the attorney general to involve himself in a school district’s efforts to manage COVID-19 or other disease within its schools,” Roldan wrote. “He had no authority even to issue an opinion on those matters to the school district. In neither of his orders nor in his social media communications did he identify a valid legal basis for asserting that the school district was acting contrary to Missouri law.”