Webster Groves responds to anti-masking pressure, rising COVID cases

Luca Giordano
Contrbuting Writer

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt on March 10, 2021. Schmitt has sent threatening letters to public health departments and school districts over their COVID-19 mitigation orders. Photo by Jill Toyoshiba/The Kansas City Star/TNS

Following pressure from Attorney General Eric Schmitt to end masking in Missouri schools, Webster Groves responded and stood ground on masks and school safety.

Webster Groves and more than 35 other Missouri school districts were sued on Jan. 21, by Schmitt. The suits have been issued against enforcing mask mandates, with the goal to provide parents a choice regarding mask policy.

“We want to return the power to the parent to make that decision (masking), and basically stop school districts from enforcing a mask mandate,” Christopher Neulle, press secretary for the attorney general’s office, said when asked about the goal of the lawsuits. 

Schmitt has been issuing this viewpoint since the beginning of the school year, also saying that masking impairs child development, according to the attorney general’s website.

Following the pressure including cease and desist letters and lawsuits, Webster Groves has continued with the current policies of mandated masking.

 “The Webster Groves School District has considered the attorney general’s call to end masking but has decided to continue requiring masks here,” Cathy Vespereny, district spokesperson, said via email concerning the pressure’s effect on the school.

“At the building level, it’s a district policy for us to be masked, so until that policy changes, we go forward with our current practice,” principal Dr. Matt Irvin said about whether the district has taken a “business as usual” approach to the pressure from the attorney general.

“We actually filed a few motions for temporary restraining orders in certain schools, and we’re hoping to get hearings on those very soon…We’re confident in our cases, and we’re confident that we’re going to prevail,” Nuelle said regarding the “business as usual” policies taken by schools being sued.

The week of Jan. 3, saw more than half of the total WGHS positive COVID cases from this school year, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard webpage. Due to the rising cases, Webster has continued a 10-day quarantine requirement for those affected. Administrators and others have covered for teachers when needed.

“Most every day I have a conversation with someone about ‘where are we now, where are we now?’ you know. We’re just trying to make sure we’re doing all we can and doing all the things we should be doing,” Irvin said regarding new cases.

“COVID is going to be endemic, and there’s going to be peaks and valleys in case counts, but fortunately school children are at very little risk of getting seriously ill from COVID,” Nuelle said regarding new cases.

“We feel the decision should rest with parents, and that’s why we’re continuing forward with litigation,” Nuelle said.

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