SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– Springfield Public Schools is considering reinstating a student body mask mandate – a move that would defy Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s cease-and-desist order.

This consideration comes as SPS has closed all schools until Monday, January 24, due to staffing shortages as a result of increased covid cases in the district.

On Tuesday alone, 200 students and 100 staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

“This trend has created staffing challenges and made it difficult for us to even recruit substitutes,” SPS superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan said.

During a virtual briefing held by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, Lathan said the district saw 661 students and 202 staff members absent due to COVID-19 in the past week alone.

“Staff members are not well enough to even teach virtually,” Lathan said.

The district will be undergoing a deep cleaning at all facilities in an effort to reopen on Monday. Lathan said current plans are to monitor the impact on the staff and students, and transition to virtual learning if necessary.

A renewed mask mandate is being considered as one alternative to avoid a return to virtual learning. The possibility has been in active discussion by the Springfield Public Schools Board of Education.

“Staff members are not well enough to even teach virtually.”

Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Grenita Lathan

SPS ended mandatory masking in late December in compliance with the Missouri Attorney General’s mandate.

Last Friday, SPS reinstated mandatory masks for all staff and visitors in an attempt to curb rising cases within the district. The mandate for staff and visitors began on Tuesday, January 18.

Superintendent Lathan said if the board rules to reimplement mandated masking for everyone she will enforce the policy, even if the Missouri attorney general takes legal action in response.

“I feel that we need to all admit that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we need to do what’s best for every citizen in this great country and definitely in the city of Springfield and Greene County, and I’m hopeful that we can all come together and do what’s best for everyone that we need to,” Lathan said.

Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Katie Towns said the best thing people can do to stop the spread of the virus is to look for opportunities to avoid social gatherings.

“My poor kids are not playing basketball again for a couple weeks while this goes on,” Towns said. “I know they’re not too happy about it, I’m not happy about keeping them out, but we all can look for opportunities to do those small things that maybe seem large in the moment in order to slow the way that this progresses.”