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Missouri treasurer joins crackdown on schools with mask mandates

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s treasurer will no longer help schools refinance bond debt unless superintendents promise not to enforce face mask requirements and other COVID-19 safety measures issued by local officials.

Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick is requiring school districts trying to refinance bond debt to certify that they’ll obey Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s warning against coronavirus mandates, Missourinet first reported.

Schmitt, a Republican, threatened this month to sue school districts and local health departments that require masks. He cited a November ruling from Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green.

“These schools received certification forms because their bond deals were scheduled to close after the Attorney General communicated with schools about the court decision and we were made aware of several schools which did not intend to comply with the order,” Treasurer’s Office spokeswoman Mary Compton said Friday in an email.

Fitzpatrick’s policy puts more pressure on districts to ditch mask and quarantine requirements. Without help from the Treasurer’s Office, districts face higher interest rates on debts.

“There are other means in which to refinance their bonds, but they may not get as good of an interest rate if they go through a private entity as opposed to this program,” St. Louis-area nonprofit EducationPlus spokeswoman Christine McDonald said. “So thus they don’t have the ability to save taxpayer dollars by using the lowest interest rate available.”

Fitzpatrick’s office has sent compliance letters to seven school districts trying to refinance, Compton said. Four signed the agreement; three requests are pending.

McDonald said some district officials were frustrated by the request because they have never faced conditions to participate in the treasurer’s debt assistance program. Also, Fitzpatrick asked superintendents to certify that their districts will abide by the court ruling. But McDonald said school boards, not superintendents, make coronavirus safety rules.

“So even by signing that, your school board could still vote to do whatever they want on certain policies,” she said.

Schmitt on Friday said his office has sent 52 cease-and-desist letters to districts where parents have reported noncompliance with Green’s ruling.

“We will continue to fight these mask mandates and quarantine orders and enforce the law,” Schmitt said in a statement.

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