In overriding the governor’s executive order, the judge stated that mask mandates that follow guidance from the CDC are “reasonable and consistent with the best scientific and medical opinion in this country.”
Just before the start of the 2021 school year, with COVID-19 rates in Florida rapidly rising, several Florida school boards implemented mask mandates in their school districts. In response, on July 30, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 21-175, which banned mask mandates in schools, declaring that it should be parents—not the government—who decide whether their children are required to wear masks in school. Following the executive order, Governor DeSantis stated that “there will be consequences” for districts that defied the ban.
On August 6, 2021, a group of parents claiming that their children were adversely affected by the governor’s blanket ban on mask mandates in Florida schools filed a lawsuit against the governor, challenging the constitutionality of the ban. On August 27, 2021, following a four-day virtual trial, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled from the bench that the ban was unlawful, reasoning that DeSantis overreached his authority, misinterpreted state law and disregarded the nation’s best scientific and medical opinions.
Judge Cooper stated that the Parents’ Bill of Rights, a new law enacted in Florida earlier this year that enumerates parents’ rights “to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health” of their children, “doesn’t ban mask mandates at all” and “doesn’t require that a mask mandate must include a parental opt-out.” He explained that “Parents’ rights are very important but they’re not without some reasonable limitations,” like those rooted in science and facts. He continued that, while the Parents’ Bill of Rights gives parents the right to make health decisions for their children, mask mandates fall within the exemption allowing for limited government actions that are reasonable and necessary to protect the health and safety of the public, i.e., the health and safety of students and teachers.
In his ruling, Judge Cooper also noted that in issuing the blanket ban on mask mandates in Florida schools, Governor DeSantis acted contrary to the overwhelming consensus of scientists and medical doctors. The judge found that the overwhelming majority of medical authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend that children and teachers wear masks in school to prevent the spread of COVID-19—especially in light of the fact that the vaccine is not currently approved for most school-aged children. In overriding the governor’s executive order, the judge stated that mask mandates that follow guidance from the CDC are “reasonable and consistent with the best scientific and medical opinion in this country.”
The court is expected to issue a written order early this week, at which time the ruling will take effect and school districts in Florida will be permitted to require students to wear masks. After the decision was issued, Taryn Fenske, communications director for the governor, released a statement that the governor “will immediately appeal the ruling to the First District Court of Appeals.” Florida’s Department of Education also said in a statement that it intends to appeal the decision.
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