Florida judge rejects DeSantis ban on mask warrants in schools

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A Florida judge spoke out against Gov. Ron DeSantis’s ban on school mask warrants on Friday, saying the Republican governor had overstepped his authority.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper called DeSantis’ executive order unconstitutional and said the governor could not enforce it – a victory for a group of parents who have taken legal action.

The governor’s decree allowed parents to decide whether they want their children to wear masks at school rather than letting local school districts make the decision.

Cooper said the DeSantis order “has no legal authority.”

School boards in 10 districts had voted to defy the order, choosing to demand masks because of the coronavirus, and they may be at risk of having their salaries withheld. The Biden administration had pledged federal funds for any district that lost money for demanding masks.

Cooper said government actions necessary to protect public health are exempt from a new Florida law, the “Parents Bill of Rights,” which DeSantis and others said gave parents final authority.

FLORIDA’S SCHOOL DISTRICTS CHALLENGE DESANTIS WITH MASK MANDATES FOR MOST STUDENTS

He said a school district’s decision to require masking of students to prevent the spread of the virus fell under that exemption.

Students sit in an algebra class at Barbara Coleman High School on the first day of school in Miami Lakes, Fla. On August 23, 2021 (Associated Press)
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Students sit in an algebra class at Barbara Coleman High School on the first day of school in Miami Lakes, Fla. On August 23, 2021 (Associated Press)

The law “doesn’t ban mask warrants at all,” Cooper said in a two-hour hearing that was conducted online due to the resurgence of the pandemic. “This does not at all require that a mask mandate include a parental exclusion.”

Cooper also issued an injunction against the state board of education because of its enforcement of the order, according to FOX 13 of Tampa.

He added that the law does not allow the state to penalize school boards for their contempt, saying they deserve due process.

“Parents’ rights are very important, but they are not without reasonable limits,” Cooper said, according to FOX 13.

Planned call

The governor’s office said the state plans to appeal the decision.

“It is no surprise that Justice Cooper speaks out against parents’ rights and their ability to make the best educational and medical decisions for their families, but instead speaks in favor of elected politicians,” the spokesperson said. Taryn Fenske in a statement. “This decision was made with inconsistent justifications, not based on science and the facts – frankly not even remotely focused on the merits of the case presented.”

“It’s no surprise that Justice Cooper speaks out against parents’ rights and their ability to make the best educational and medical decisions for their families.”

– Taryn Fenske, spokesperson for DeSantis

Amy Nell, who lives in the Tampa area and was one of the parents to be sued, said Cooper’s decision made her feel heard for the first time in some time.

“Since the start of the school year, it’s been a weird world,” she said. “We are told that the science – what we think it is and everything we know about viruses – may not be true.” Her son is in primary school.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks in Pembroke Pines, Fla., August 18, 2021 (Associated Press)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks in Pembroke Pines, Fla., August 18, 2021 (Associated Press)

Cooper also noted that two Florida Supreme Court decisions of 1914 and 1939 concluded that individual rights are limited by their impact on the rights of others. For example, he said, adults have the right to drink alcohol but not to drive while intoxicated because it puts others at risk. There is a right to free speech, but not to harass or threaten others or to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, he said.

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Similarly, he said, school boards can reasonably say that students without masks endanger the health of other students and teachers.

The delta variant caused the resurgence of the virus in the state over the summer with record highs of new cases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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