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Judge rules that MO AG did not have authority to interfere with public schools' COVID-19 policies

Ruling on Lee's Summit R-7 School District countersuit
Lee's Summit R-7 School District Tony L. Stansberry Leadership Center.jpg
Posted at 9:32 AM, May 30, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Jackson County, Missouri, Circuit Court ruled Friday that the state's Attorney General's Office does not have the authority to intervene with the policies and decision of locally elected officials.

The ruling "affirmed the broad powers of Missouri school boards to control and govern district operations," after the Lee's Summit R-7 School District filed a counterclaim asking the Jackson County Court to confirm that the Missouri Attorney General does not have the power to halt public schools' COVID-19 mitigation efforts, the district said in a release.

“This ruling affirms that Missouri law empowers locally elected School Boards to control district operations,” Lee’s Summit Schools Board of Education president Rodrick Sparks said. “We’re thankful for this decision and the clarity it provides for our continued efforts to serve our students, staff and community.”

In December 2021, Missouri Sen. Eric Schmitt — who was the state's attorney general at the time — sent cease and desist letters to dozens of Missouri school districts, ordering them to repeal any masking and vaccination requirements.

The Lee's Summit School District's legal team responded to the letter, saying the demands "not only lack legal effect—they are simply wrong." In the response, the district said that Schmitt does not have the authority to cease and desist its COVID-19 mitigation efforts and that the district does not need permission from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and local health departments for its COVID-19 response.

Schmitt sued 11 Kansas City-area districts in January over their mask mandates. The next month, the Lee's Summit School District filed a motion to dismiss the case. Schmitt missed the deadline to respond to the motion, citing "excusable neglect."

Schmitt later dropped the lawsuits in March, but claimed the lawsuits led to 42 school districts dropping their mask mandates.

The Lee's Summit School District said it continued a countersuit "to establish the legal authority of the School District to manage future operational decisions."

“The School District has the utmost respect for the role of the Attorney General, and it applauds the ongoing service of our elected School Board members,” Lee's Summit superintendent Dr. David Buck said in a statement. “Missouri law protects local control, and we are pleased to see the courts reinforce that.”