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Circuit Judge Rebukes DeSantis Order Prohibiting Masks In Schools

August 27, 2021 by Reece Nations
In this Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, photo, students sit in an Algebra class at Barbara Coleman Senior High School on the first day of school, in Miami Lakes, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The order issued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday that blocked public schools from imposing mask mandates in the classroom was struck down by Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper.

DeSantis’s order had been challenged in a lawsuit by a group of pro-mask parents, TWN previously reported. In his opinion, Cooper maintained that the law allows school boards to adopt rules regarding the health care of students even if parents disagree with the policy.

Cooper asserted that while parent’s rights are important, they still come with “reasonable limitations.” DeSantis expressed publicly that he would appeal the judge’s decision if it did not go his way.

If successful, DeSantis threatened to withdraw some state funding from school boards that defy his executive order. DeSantis has also said that because COVID-19 vaccinations are now widespread, the decision to mask students should not lie with school districts but with parents instead.

DeSantis characterized the order as a vehicle for “ensuring parents’ right to choose,” and asserted in the order that “forcing students to wear masks lacks a well-grounded scientific justification” by citing a Brown University study that found no correlation between previous mask mandates and the spread of COVID-19 in Florida schools.

Further, DeSantis had contended that school boards implementing masking requirements were violating the “Parents Bill of Rights” signed into law earlier this summer. The Parents Bill of Rights implements new rules relating to children’s “education, upbringing, and health care” and institutes new specified penalties for school districts found to be in violation.

However, a caveat of the study DeSantis cites in the order is that its data does not specify if the students contracted COVID-19 inside or outside of school, according to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Brown University researcher Emily Oster, who conducted the study, has since clarified that the data sets in the report were compiled before the spread of the delta variant.

In Cooper’s opinion, he ruled that the Parents Bill of Rights does not grant the governor the authority to overrule the school districts’ policies and he issued an injunction preventing the Department of Education from taking legal action against the districts requiring masks without a parental opt-out.

At least seven Florida school districts have imposed mask mandates in defiance of DeSantis that require a medical exemption for students wanting to opt out.

Cooper also cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current guidance on masking as the basis for keeping the mandates in place, stating they are “at this point in time reasonable and in the best scientific interest.”

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