SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A spokesperson for Springfield Public Schools says the Missouri Attorney General’s office is forcing the district to bring students back to class without masks or required quarantines for students who are exposed.

For the first time since August of 2020, students and teachers in the Springfield Public School District will begin a traditional semester without being required to wear a mask.

The spring semester will begin on Tuesday, January 4th, with new COVID-19 policies. Springfield Public Schools says the changes were not made by choice, but rather a recent letter sent by Missouri’s Attorney General’s Office last month.

Last month, Missouri’s Attorney General Eric Schmitt sent a flurry of cease and desist letters targeting mask mandates. Specifically, Schmitt contends that school officials don’t have the authority to enact or enforce health orders.

Schmitt also asked parents to report school districts that are enforcing mask mandates. This led to a protest outside a Springfield school with parents gathering and kids leaving class to show their dissatisfaction about SPS’s masking and quarantine rules.

Monday’s strong words from the Springfield Public School district toward Attorney General Schmitt’s actions come as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surges across the country. Districts nationwide are struggling to keep teachers and kids in the classroom. A former CDC chief says the Omicron spike will make it difficult for schools to stay open in the coming weeks.

“It’s quite troubling, and it has us very concerned as we look ahead into the second semester,” Stephen Hall, Director of SPS Communications told OzarksFirst on Monday.

Hall says not only can the district not require masking, but it will also begin 2022 lacking the authority to require students to quarantine if it’s determined they were exposed to the virus while at school.

The changes come as the district reported its highest numbers of cases yet at the end of 2021. In December, more than 300 students and staff at SPS tested positive for COVID-19.

“The problem was we knew that as we dismissed for winter break and we see families gather in large numbers many times that there is the real potential for us to face an even larger surge when we return to classes beginning tomorrow,” Hall says. “That’s the reality that we face. We fully expected it. However, we have fewer options now than we did before we received the directive from the Attorney General on December 8th, so we are forced to really deal with the hand that we’re dealt at this point.”

Hall says Springfield Public School is anticipating having to resort to moving some classes to virtual schooling due to positive cases or teacher quarantines.

“We have fewer options available to us as a result of the attorney general’s directives. We are facing a much more likelihood of having to switch to virtual learning at any given moment where a classroom or for a school if the need arises.”

The district says it will continue to contract trace new cases and notify parents if their child has close contact with someone who tests positive.

However, Hall says it will then be up to the family to decide whether their child should return to school, wear a mask, stay home, or be tested.