Education

Judge Rules Florida Can’t Enforce Ban on School Mask Mandates; Appeals Continue

By The Associated Press — September 08, 2021 3 min read
Student Winston Wallace, 9, raises his hand in class at iPrep Academy on the first day of school in Miami on Aug. 23, 2021. A judge has ruled that Florida school districts may impose mask mandates. Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper on Friday agreed with a group of parents who claimed in a lawsuit that Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on the mandates is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A Florida judge ruled Wednesday that the state cannot enforce a ban on public schools mandating the use of masks to guard against the coronavirus, while an appeals court sorts out whether the ban is ultimately legal.

Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper lifted an automatic stay of his decision last week that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials exceeded their authority by imposing the blanket ban through executive order and tagging defiant pro-mask local school boards with financial penalties.

Cooper said the overwhelming evidence before him in a lawsuit by parents challenging the DeSantis ban is that wearing masks does provide some protection for children in crowded school settings, particularly those under 12 for whom no vaccine yet exists. The issue came to a head amid a recent surge in cases caused by the more contagious and deadly delta variant of the virus, which health statistics show has begun to wane.

“We’re not in normal times. We are in a pandemic,” Cooper said during a hearing held remotely. “We have a (coronavirus) variant that is more infectious and dangerous to children than the one we had last year.”

Since DeSantis signed the mandatory mask ban order on July 30, 13 school boards representing more than half of Florida’s 2.8 million students have adopted mask requirements with an opt-out only for medical reasons. State education officials have begun going after rebellious school board members’ salaries as a form of punishment.

Jacob Oliva, public schools chancellor at the state Department of Education, said in a notice last week to local superintendents that “enforcement must cease if the stay is lifted.”

The case next goes before the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. DeSantis said at an appearance Wednesday in Palm Harbor that he is confident the state will prevail. The matter could ultimately be decided by the Florida Supreme Court.

The core of the governor’s argument is that the recently passed Parents Bill of Rights gives decision-making authority to parents on whether their children should wear a mask to school.

“What we’ve found is in the trial courts in Tallahassee, state and federal, we typically lose if there’s a political component to it, but then in the appeals court we almost always win,” the governor said.

School Mask Mandates at a Glance

Cooper seemed to go out of his way to point out that he has frequently ruled in favor of Florida governors in the past, including cases involving GOP Govs. Jeb Bush and Rick Scott. Cooper has been a Leon County circuit judge since he was first elected in 2002.

“If you look at my record, it’s not somebody who runs all over the place, ruling against the governor,” Cooper said. “This case has generated a lot of heat and a lot of light.”

On the Parents Bill of Rights, Cooper said his previous order follows the law as passed earlier this year by the Legislature. The law, he said, reserves health and education decisions regarding children to parents unless a government entity such as a school board can show their broader action is reasonable and narrowly tailored to the issue at hand.

The DeSantis order impermissibly enforces only the first portion of that law, Cooper said.

“You have to show you have authority to do what you’re doing,” the judge said. “You cannot enforce part of that law but not all of it.”

In a separate case, parents of special needs children have filed a federal lawsuit claiming the DeSantis mandatory school mask ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by placing their medically sensitive children in jeopardy.

A federal judge in Miami was set to hold a hearing later Wednesday in that case.

Additionally, school officials in Broward, Alachua, and Orange counties filed a petition to schedule a hearing before an administrative law judge. According to the filing, the local school officials want the judge to invalidate a state health department emergency rule against school mask requirements based on the governor’s executive order.

Related Tags:

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)