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Once again, Governor DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates was overruled, at least for now. Florida has been hard hit by the Delta variant of COVID yet the Governor doesn’t want school districts to require masking. The state will appeal the ruling, since DeSantis is strongly committed to allowing parents—not schools—to decide whether students should wear masks.
Tallahassee — A Leon County judge on Wednesday blocked Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration from enforcing a ban on strict mask mandates in schools after vacating a stay on a ruling tied to a parent-led lawsuit.
That means 13 school districts with mask requirements that allow only medical opt-outs can keep enforcing their mandates. Their ability to do so might be short lived, however, as the state is expected to appeal Judge John Cooper’s decision.
The ruling had been paused on Friday when the state appealed to the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.
Cooper, however, said he does not believe the state will be harmed if his ruling stays in place through the appeals process. That’s because Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration can still enforce the Parents’ Bill of Rights — which the state invoked to enforce its ban on mask mandates — as long as the state follows it in full. That means the state cannot punish districts that have demonstrated their mask policy “is reasonable” and achieves a “compelling state interest.”
“This case has generated a lot of heat and a lot of light, but the bottom line is this case is about enforcing the law the Legislature passed, and that’s why I think setting aside this stay is appropriate,” Cooper said.
The underlying legal battle has the attention of 13 school districts in Florida — which comprise more than a majority of all public school childrenin the state — that have imposed mask mandates. The state has withheld funds equivalent to monthly salaries of school board members in two of the districts, in Broward and Alachua counties.
The court decision Wednesday is part of an ongoing, broader parent-led lawsuit that contends DeSantis and his administration overstepped their legal authority when issuing a blanket ban on mask mandates with no parent opt-out except for medical reasons.
Cooper concluded, after a four-day trial last month, that DeSantis and his administration acted “without legal authority” when invoking the Parents’ Bill of Rights to enforce the ban on mask mandates.
That law says the state is not allowed to “infringe on the fundamental rights of a parent” to direct the upbringing, education, healthcare, and mental health of a child “without demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest.”
Cooper noted defendants used the first half of the statute but not the second part when they issued their order. Therefore, their actions were unlawful.