Judge issues written ruling in favor of schools in fight over masks
South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Brooke Baitinger | September 2, 2021
After he verbally gave school districts the OK to require students to wear masks in school, a Leon County judge released a ruling Thursday vindicating the districts’ actions in writing.
The ruling from Circuit Judge John C. Cooper found that the state’s ban on mask mandates was unconstitutional and controverted medical evidence that masks are advisable.
The decision should put at least a temporary stop to the State Board of Education’s action against the 13 school districts that require masks. The state plans to appeal.
The state Board of Education took advantage of the delay — almost a week since Cooper’s verbal decision — to dock school board members’ pay in Broward and Alachua counties, a penalty the state planned to bring down monthly until the districts complied with a rule saying parents must be able to opt out of mask rules.
Cooper agreed with parents who sued, claiming that parents don’t have an unlimited right to send their kids to school without a mask because it would infringe on the rights of other parents who want their children to be safe.
Cooper cited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the “wide majority of the medical and scientific community in this country” that recommend universal indoor masking for all school students, staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools regardless of vaccination status and social distancing.
He went on to say that because Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed a state of emergency to expire in June, the governor did not have emergency powers to enforce a blanket ban of mask mandates.
The state had argued that a new Parents’ Bill of Rights in Florida gave parents the power to make decisions about their children’s health. But the judge turned the argument around, saying the state ignored a portion of the law that allowed local school boards to make reasonable decisions about protecting children.
“Local school boards can adopt policies dealing with the health and education of school children,” he wrote. “To the extent that those policies may affect parents’ rights to control their children’s education or health,” then it is incumbent on the school board to demonstrate that the policy is reasonable under the Parents’ Bill of Rights.