Florida judge to decide on challenge to DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates in schools

The mask showdown continues Friday inside of a Florida courtroom as parents face off against Governor Ron DeSantis, challenging his executive order against mandating masks inside of schools.

DeSantis has said the decision should be left up to parents on whether kids should have to mask up. However, not all agree, as some parents say this decision could be putting their children in jeopardy as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge in the state.

The lawsuit was filed last week, just days before the school year started across the state. In it, Florida parents spoke out against the governor’s decision to not allow school districts to mandate masks for their students. They’re now fighting for an emergency motion for an injunction against that executive order that bans schools from requiring masks.

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In the lawsuit, the parents allege that the executive order violates part of the state constitution that "ensures uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of public schools,"  going on to say that by not mandating masks, it’s putting students’ lives in jeopardy.

Parents involved in the lawsuit reside in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Alachua, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. 

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Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper held an online conference in the case Friday and scheduled a hearing at 2 p.m. Thursday to consider a state motion to dismiss the lawsuit. If the motion is not granted, he reserved three days, starting Aug. 23, to hear the case.

DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education are named as defendants in the 25-page complaint. Cooper said he expects attorneys representing the state to file the motion for dismissal by noon Monday. 

Michael Abel, an attorney representing the state, argued that the lawsuit has "significant deficiencies as a threshold matter" related to issues such as standing and whether it presents "nonjusticiable political questions" or seeks relief that violates the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive branch. 

Cooper told attorneys Friday that he "already ruled extensively" on the issue of separation of powers in a lawsuit against the state Department of Economic Opportunity about problems with the unemployment compensation system last year. 

Cooper dismissed the unemployment compensation case and pointed to the separation of powers.

"That’s not to tell you that I’m necessarily going to rule the same way, but that’s just to let you know that’s how I’ve ruled before," Cooper said Friday. 

The lawsuit comes as the delta variant continues to spread, with many of the parents involved in the lawsuit saying their children are too young to be vaccinated.  

While the governor has not addressed this lawsuit specifically, he has said he stands by his order, reiterating that parents should be able to let their child opt out of wearing a mask if they want.

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In addition to this lawsuit, another lawsuit was also filed against the governor last week by parents of children with special needs. They say that as long as masks are not mandated in the classroom, they don’t feel comfortable sending their child back, which they believe could be drastically hurting their child’s education.

In some counties, students and teachers who returned to classrooms only days ago are already under a COVID-19 quarantine.

In Palm Beach County, officials said they ended the second day of classes with 440 students sent home to quarantine because of 51 cases detected among staff members and students.

Orange County's school system reported 333 total cases after classes began this week, with 20 teachers and 39 students still quarantined.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.