At this point, Florida’s ban on mask mandates in public schools can be compared to Katy Perry’s famous song, “Hot N Cold.” Sometimes it’s a yes, sometimes it’s a no.
On Friday, the state’s First District Court of Appeals issued a stay that reinstates Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on school mask mandates, which also imposes financial penalties on school board members who support mask mandates. The appeals court overturned a previous ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper, who this week said the state had exceeded its authority and could not enforce a ban on mask mandates put in place to protect against covid-19.
“No surprise here - the 1st DCA has restored the right of parents to make the best decisions for their children,” DeSantis tweeted on Friday. “I will continue to fight for parents’ rights.”
The lawsuit, which challenges the ban DeSantis signed at the end of July, was brought forth by parents who opposed the state’s decision against the mandates. According to the Associated Press, 13 school boards have adopted mask mandates for their districts. The mask mandates affect more than half of the 2.8 million students in Florida.
Currently, Florida school districts with mask mandates allow students to forgo using one for medical reasons, but not due to parental choice. DeSantis has maintained that under the state’s Parents Bill of Rights law, which establishes a parent’s rights in their child’s education, upbringing, and health, parents have the final say over whether their children have to wear masks to school.
Cooper, the Leon County Circuit judge, said the evidence presented by the parents opposing DeSantis’ ban clearly demonstrated that wearing masks provides some protection for kids in crowded schools. Masks can be especially helpful for children under 12 years old, the judge pointed out, given that no covid-19 vaccine is approved for this age group yet.
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administrated warned parents against vaccinating children under 12 years old at the moment and urged them to wait for the results of clinical trials.
In regard to the state’s claim that it was enforcing the Parents Bill of Rights, Cooper said the law allows parents to make health and education decisions for their children unless a government entity, such as a school board, can show the action is reasonable and directed to address the situation. Cooper pointed out that the state was only enforcing the first part of the law, the AP reported.
“You have to show you have authority to do what you’re doing,” Cooper stated. “You cannot enforce part of that law but not all of it.”
However, the appeals court said Cooper should not have lifted the stay, which prevented the ban from going into effect, because the state was seeking further judicial review of the case.
“We have serious doubts about standing, jurisdiction, and other threshold matters,” the judges for the First District Court of Appeal stated. “Given the presumption against vacating the automatic stay, the stay should have been left in place pending appellate review.”
School districts with mask mandates appear to have no desire to ride the judicial roller coaster. Many have chosen to keep their mandates in place until the issue is settled in the courts.
Vickie Cartwright, the interim superintendent for Broward County Public Schools, said in a press conference that the district would continue to implement its mask mandate.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’ve got to respond accordingly to what’s in the best interest of our students related to the pandemic,” Cartwright said, as reported by CNN. “We look forward to the future ruling from the District Court of Appeals.”
A lawyer representing the parents affirmed that they had already appealed their case to the Florida Supreme Court.