Time runs out for Missouri AG to appeal ruling in school mask mandate lawsuit

A Jackson County judge ruled in May that the attorney general lacked any legal authority to order school districts to end COVID-19 mitigation measures

By: - July 14, 2023 9:00 am
A limestone municipal skyscraper with a few people outside and a bronze-looking statue in front

The Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City as photographed December 30, 2022 (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Time has run out for Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey to appeal a judge’s decision limiting his authority over school districts and clarifying that school boards can establish disease mitigation methods, such as mask mandates.

Bailey had 40 days from Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Marco Roldan’s May 27 ruling to ask for a new trial. That deadline passed on July 6 without an appeal being filed.

The case originated with his predecessor, Eric Schmitt, who stepped down as attorney general in January after being elected to the U.S. Senate.

In January 2022, Schmitt sued 47 Missouri school districts that implemented mask mandates to slow the spread of COVID-19. His lawsuits relied on a Cole County judgment that took power away from local health departments to enforce mandates.

All but one of the lawsuits were dismissed. But Lee’s Summit R-7 School District refused to let the case end — even as Schmitt attempted to dismiss his own lawsuit. The district hoped by seeing the case through to a verdict, a precedent would be set outlining the attorney general’s authority.

A modern office building on a clear day with the words "Lee's Summit R-VII School District" on the tile facade
Lee’s Summit R-7 School District’s Tony L. Stansberry Leadership Center, as photographed December 30, 2022 (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

“Our primary focus has and will always be to serve and support our students,” the district’s spokesperson, Katy Bergen, said in a statement. “We are grateful to have the clarity this ruling provides as we continue to champion this mission.”

Roldan ruled that Schmitt was not following state law when he ordered Lee’s Summit and other school districts to end COVID-19 mitigation measures.

Besides, Roldan said, the Cole County lawsuit at the heart of Schmitt’s legal challenges did not cover school districts.

Neal Perryman, an attorney representing St. Louis County in an appeal of the Cole County case, lauded Roldan’s ruling in a Missouri Supreme Court hearing Wednesday, noting Bailey’s decision not to appeal.

Roldan’s judgment also criticized Schmitt for opening tip hotlines to have parents and students report school districts they suspected were in violation of the Cole County order.

“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 ruled. “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.”

Bergen said the district will not be seeking for the state to pay the district’s attorney’s fees. Lee’s Summit R-7 School District spent almost $73,000 in 2022 paying its attorneys for the case, according to receipts obtained by The Independent.

The attorney general’s office did not respond to requests for comment.


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Annelise Hanshaw
Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.