Judge allows DeSantis’ anti-mask mandate in schools to stay in effect while legal challenge moves forward


Tribune News Service

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a Monoclonal Antibody Treatment center at the Barnstorm Theater in The Villages on Wednesday, August 25, 2021. The center is one of many for treatment of COVID-19. DeSantis answered several media questions about school mask mandates following the press conference. Photo courtesy of Dreamstime/TNS.

Brynn Schwartz, Associate Editor-in-Chief

On Friday, Sept. 10, Florida’s 1st District Court reversed the stay on Governor Ron DeSantis’ mask mandates ban. This ruling was the result of a joint lawsuit by parents of disabled children in Miami-Dade, Orange, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Pinellas and Alachua counties in response to DeSantis’s mask mandate ban issued in executive order 21-175, which established a parent’s right to choose whether or not their child would comply with mask mandates in schools.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students have varying opinions on this court ruling. Many MSD students feel strongly about the lawsuit because Broward County is one of few districts to put a mask mandate in place, despite DeSantis’s executive order.

“His order makes me feel unsafe and uncomfortable. I’m concerned about the COVID cases rising in schools in the future,” freshman Isabel Lopez said.

In the first hearing of the lawsuit, Judge John Cooper, ruled against DeSantis and stated he does not have the authority to enforce his executive. He went a step further, placing a ‘stay’ against the governor’s order on Sept. 8 preventing DeSantis from enforcing his order and allowing Florida counties to continue to enforce mask mandates during the time the case was possibly appealed.

The next day, DeSantis filed an emergency appeal, his lawyers arguing they “have a high likelihood of success on appeal,” resulting on Sept. 10 in the reverse of the ‘stay’ order. This means that DeSantis could enforce his executive order until a ruling on the case has been made by the First District Court of Appeals.

Tweeting he was not surprised by the Sept. 10 ruling in his favor, “The 1st [District Court of Appeal] has restored the right of parents to make the best decisions for their children. I will continue to fight for parents’ rights,” DeSantis said.

While some support this position, others believe that parents do not have the right to make decisions about whether their child wears a mask or not, when it impacts others.

“The family is well within their rights to remove their student from public schools and find alternative modes of education if they are displeased with the local school board’s policies,” speech and debate teacher Jacob Abraham said.

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education weighed in, announcing they are opening an investigation into whether the Florida Department of Education “may be preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the needs of students with disabilities.”

A letter was sent by the OCR to the Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, describing how they are concerned that the ban on mask mandates without parental opt-out is possibly “preventing schools in Florida from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students without disabilities are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

“Many people have family members or they themselves are in a compromised position if they are to get COVID,” freshman Angelina Sibila said, echoing the sentiments of the OCR.

The parents engaged in this legal battle with DeSantis hope to elevate the case to the Florida Supreme Court. The parents’ attorneys filed a request mere hours after the Sept. 10 decision by the 1st District Court, the request saying, “No child has died from the requirement to wear a mask while indoors at school; however children have died from contracting COVID-19.”

According to data published on Sept. 13 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, child COVID-19 cases increased by almost 240% since July. It coincided with the opening of schools across the country. In Florida, COVID-19 deaths in children have more than doubled, per Politico.

“I, personally, don’t feel comfortable when those around me don’t wear masks. I’m doing my best to keep them safe, but the same consideration isn’t given back,” Sibila said.

As of now, the future of mask mandates in Florida public schools remains unclear, currently MSD and Broward County Public Schools will continue their current COVID-19 policies until they are forced otherwise.