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Face masks, which are not mandated by Ray-Pec School District

Ray-Pec schools prep to close; AG Schmitt sues dozens of school districts

By Raymore Journal staff

The Raymore-Peculiar School District is warning parents that students may go back to virtual learning if the rate of new COVID-19 cases continues its current trajectory. Meanwhile, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is suing nearly 40 school districts over mask mandates.

Ray-Pec School District Superintendent Dr. Mike Slagle is giving parents a fair warning about potential procedures to mitigate issues regarding a lack of staff as COVID-19 cases surge. In a message sent on Jan. 19, Dr. Slagle explains what the school district is poised to do should the current infection rate persist.

“Given the current trajectory in the number of positive COVID-19 cases and the lack of available staff to backfill key positions, there is the possibility we may be forced to close a classroom or facilities for a temporary period of time,” Dr. Slagle states in the letter. “I assure you that this is our last choice to deal with the issue before us, and we will do everything in our power to prevent closures.”

In the event the COVID-19 situation does not improve, the Ray-Pec School District may move to a short-term virtual learning environment.

If that were to happen, high schools will move to that format first, followed by middle schools if necessary. Consequently, staff members can be moved around to keep elementary schools open for in-person learning as long as possible. Worst case scenario, all students from Early Childhood to 12th grade will move to a short-term virtual learning format.

However, the school district may have to move to virtual learning for all students sooner if the employment situation does not improve. Regardless of the number of COVID-19 cases and teaching staff, in-person learning can still go on pause if there is a labor shortage within the transportation system or other aspects of the school district’s operations.

So far, the situation appears to be improving for the Ray-Pec School District. Despite a spike in isolations on Tuesday, Jan. 18, the tracing rate has gone down to less than 2%. Last Tuesday’s increase was likely the result of students returning from a four-day weekend. That trend has been consistent throughout the pandemic.

“Mondays have had consistently high case numbers due to the weekend backlog effect,” Michele Stidham, Ray-Pec School District’s communication director, told The Raymore Journal. “This past Tuesday was especially high because of additional backlog days of Friday and Monday.”

Nearby school districts have already pulled the trigger. On Jan. 20, the Belton School District announced all students will move to a virtual learning only format from Friday, Jan. 21, through Tuesday, Jan. 25. Belton School District officials hope the three days of “Alternate Methods of Instruction” will be enough to slow down the rate of COVID-19 infections within the district.

Lawsuits against school districts with mask mandates

School district procedures addressing the pandemic have been met with criticism and resistance throughout the state. Dozens of school districts currently have mask mandates implemented. However, the state is challenging those mandates.

On Friday, Jan. 21, Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced that his office has filed lawsuits against at least 36 school districts through the state. The complaints argue that not only do school districts lack the authority to impose mask mandates, but also that there is “no empirical or rational basis” behind the idea that mask mandates in schools prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The school districts being sued by the state include:

  • Affton
  • Brentwood
  • Center
  • Clayton
  • Columbia
  • Dunklin R-5
  • Ferguson-Florissant
  • Fort Zumwalt
  • Fox C-6
  • Francis Howell R-III
  • Grandview C-4
  • Hazelwood
  • Hickman Mills C-1
  • Holden R-III
  • Independence
  • Jefferson City
  • Kansas City Missouri
  • Kingsville R-I
  • Ladue
  • Lee’s Summit R-VII
  • Liberty
  • Lindbergh
  • Maplewood Richmond Heights
  • Mehlville
  • North Kansas City
  • Park Hill
  • Parkway C-2
  • Pattonville R-III
  • Raytown C-2
  • Rockwood R-VI
  • Charles R-VI
  • Louis
  • Valley Park
  • Warrensburg R-VI
  • Waynesville R-VI
  • Webster Groves

“School districts have never been given the authority by the legislature to enact public health orders like mask mandates or quarantine orders – the recent Cole County judgment just further affirms that fact,” Schmitt said in a statement. “The decision to mask children in school should rest solely with parents and families.”