September 22, 2021

Columbia, Mo.- The ACLU of Missouri asked a state court to allow it to intervene on behalf of Missouri school children whose disabilities put them at heightened risk for COVID-19. The effort comes in Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s class-action lawsuit seeking to prevent any school district from implementing universal masking COVID- 19 safety measures. 

Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act of 1973, public schools cannot exclude students with disabilities, deny them equal access to their education, or segregate them unnecessarily. Moreover, schools are obligated to provide reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures in order to give students an equal opportunity to benefit from their public education. This includes requiring universal masking, which can reduce the spread of COVID-19, in schools to protect children with disabilities so that they may continue to attend.

The CDC recommends that all students, teachers, and staff regardless of vaccination status wear a mask in K-12 schools. Children under 12 cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19, only 47 percent of eligible Missourians are fully vaccinated, and many children have medical conditions that preclude them from vaccination. The ACLU represents three students who attend Missouri schools and have underlying conditions that put them at heightened risk of serious illness, long-term effects, and death should they contract the virus. 

While the Missouri Attorney General claims he wishes to ban masks to protect children, he ignores children with disabilities, who require the protection masks can provide if they are to attend and participate in school. While he claims the risk of spread among children to be low, there has been a tenfold increase in hospitalizations among children in recent months. Indeed, just this week the Fort Zumwalt School District reversed course and implemented K-12  universal masking to help get a grasp on the unmitigated spread of COVID in the district, which had 139 students test positive for the virus. 

Tony Rothert, ACLU of Missouri: Missouri’s Attorney General Schmitt has forgotten that students with disabilities attend Missouri schools and that school districts are required by federal law to accommodate them. Today, universal masking is an important tool school districts can use to keep in school those children at heightened-risk for COVID because of their disabilities. The voices of students with disabilities should be heard in this case before they become collateral damage in the Attorney General’s war against science.