Ashley Moody to school district: Comply with mask mandate ban

A judge is expected to invalidate the ban Wednesday.

Florida Politics | By Renzo Downey | September 2, 2021

Responding to a question from the Suwannee County School Board asking whether the district can require masks for students, Attorney General Ashely Moody says the state’s ban on school mask mandates is still the law.

Circuit Court Judge John Cooper in Leon County issued an oral decision Friday invalidating Gov. Ron DeSantis’ prohibition on mask mandates in public schools. Cooper has not submitted a written order — expected Wednesday — for that ruling, leading the Department of Education to withhold school board member and superintendent salaries for violating the state’s rules.

Cooper has yet declared the rules and order invalid, Moody wrote Wednesday.

“It is my opinion that the District must comply with Rule 64DER21-12 and any other applicable authorities unless and until the judiciary declares them invalid,” Moody wrote.

Moody’s advisory legal opinion represents the state’s formal position on the status of the law.

“The judiciary has not declared the rule to be invalid, and as such, this advisory opinion clearly states that multiple school districts are breaking the law by violating parents’ rights,” Education Department spokesman Jared Ochs said in a statement. “Today, the Department is urging every school district that has mandated masks without an opt out to promptly change its policies and comply with Florida’s rules and laws.”

That followed a statement from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran Monday, when the department announced it had withheld funds from Alachua and Broward county school districts the week before. Those were the first of now 12 districts, representing a majority of Florida’s public school students, going against DeSantis’ executive order.

“We’re going to fight to protect parent’s rights to make health care decisions for their children,” Corcoran said in a prepared statement. “They know what is best for their children. What’s unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”

In his oral decision Friday, Cooper deemed DeSantis’ mask mandate ban “arbitrary and capricious.”

DeSantis has vowed to ask the 1st District Court of Appeal to overturn Cooper’s ruling.

The Governor based his order — and the Department of Health based its subsequent emergency rules — on the Parents’ Bill of Rights. DeSantis signed that law, which provides parents freedom from the state and public schools in how they raise their children, including regarding health.

However, Cooper said the state didn’t fully follow the Parents’ Bill of Rights. The mask mandate ban preemptively prohibits mask requirements without allowing school districts to prove the measures are reasonable, a step he said the bill required.

“The defendants do not have authority under this law to a blanket mandatory ban against a face mask policy that does not provide a parental opt out,” Cooper said.

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