On Friday, I had to work from home because my son’s school district canceled classes due to a COVID-related staff shortage. While working between interruptions from him, I saw the news that Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sued our school district — and nearly three dozen others — for having the audacity to reimplement a mask requirement.
This left me wondering: Will he sue these districts for their other dress code requirements that impinge on student freedom?
My son is also required to wear a shirt to school. Ditto shoes. There’s even a pants mandate. Will our attorney general fight for the right of students to dress how they want? Who is this unelected P.E. coach to say kids need shoes while running laps outside? Isn’t it their God-given right to just show up dressed the way God created them?
Pulling up the district’s policy also reminded me the school bans “apparel displaying sexually explicit, vulgar, violent, or advocating illegal activities.” Where, Schmitt, is your lawsuit challenging that? Free speech is under attack right here in our local public schools. Student voices are being canceled. Is this Communist China now?
The district’s policy adds, “Apparel or grooming which presents a safety concern is not permitted.” So, apparently masks aren’t the first time we’ve created rules to keep kids safe. Schmitt wants the decision about whether other children show up spewing COVID-19 germs all over the hallway to “rest solely with parents and families.” But if we’re going to challenge masks, why not sue for all safety-related school rules? What about my right as a parent to dress my child in a spiked collar?
Let’s be honest and stop pretending Schmitt cares about enforcing the law and protecting individual rights. This is crass politics from the attorney general’s office designed to boost his poll numbers in this year’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. While Eric Greitens talks about conspiracy theories, Schmitt’s position allows him to actually participate in one. What does it say about his character that he is so willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of our children, teachers and school staff to advance his political career?
To suggest districts can’t dictate how students dress (whether requiring pants or masks) is to ignore not only the science about masking and the reality of the pandemic but also the fact that schools — and businesses and even the AG’s office — already have lots of dress code rules.
And, I would humbly suggest, the public health threat posed by a “no pants policy” isn’t nearly as dangerous to others right now as Schmitt’s desire that COVID-infected people not wear masks in public places.
Across our communities people have sacrificed to keep people healthy throughout this pandemic. Overworked and under appreciated nurses and doctors have been asked to save lives through wave after wave of cases. As hospitals fill up across Missouri and stress levels rise yet again, they are pleading that we do our part to keep our medical system from breaking apart.
School administrators and teachers are working to keep schools open and children protected, which parents want and students need. So, it’s disheartening when a politician decides to work against our communities and the common good.
In the world dictated by Eric Schmitt, our hospitals fill up and our schools close down.
If he gets what he wants, we’ll see more staff and children sickened and more canceled days of schools. We may never know the full impact on the health of our communities for which he’ll be morally responsible. Schmitt claims on his Senate website that he’s “a staunch defender of life,” but his COVID-denying politics unmask that as a lie.
And it’s worse than that. He’s funding this deadly crusade against public schools with taxpayer money.
Quality education involves teaching our children about math, history, science, the arts and more. But it also involves lessons about character, responsibility, the common good and — this should be obvious — common sense.
Eric Schmitt is failing that moral test. But it’s our children who are paying the consequences of his cynicism and ignorance.
Brian Kaylor is president & editor-in-chief of Word&Way. This piece was first published by the Missouri Independent, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: email@example.com. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.