Immediately after a Florida state circuit judge issued his final ruling against a state ban on mask mandates in schools, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida) appealed the decision, placing a stay on it in order to continue preventing Florida schools from requiring masks.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled last week that the Florida governor’s executive order banning masking rules made by school districts across the state (which were issued in order to stem the spread of coronavirus among students and staff) was improperly utilized by the state Board of Education to enforce the Parents’ Bill of Rights, a bill signed into law by DeSantis earlier this summer that gave the governor the power to stop schools from issuing such policies, ostensibly on the basis of protecting parental freedoms.
Cooper noted in his initial finding that the Parents’ Bill of Rights has two parts to it: It stipulates that government leaders aren’t allowed to “infringe on the fundamental rights of a parent” regarding a child’s upbringing, education, health care choices and mental health, but it also asserts that school districts are still allowed to impose “reasonable and necessary” rules if there is a “compelling state interest” to do so.
The actions taken by the Board of Education and the DeSantis administration to prevent schools from requiring masks stepped outside of the law’s scope, Cooper said in his final ruling, which he issued on Thursday, noting that the statute doesn’t grant the governor the right to make a “blanket” masking mandate ban across the state — that each district’s rules have to be examined individually and responded to by the state if it believes a violation of parental rights has occurred.
“The Defendants do not have authority under this law to enforce a before the fact of policy adoption blanket mandate against a mandatory face mask policy by a local school board,” Cooper said. “This statute does not support a state-wide order or action interfering with the constitutionally provided authority of local school districts to provide for the safety and health of the children based on the unique facts on the ground in a particular county.”
The DeSantis administration’s attempt to impose a statewide ban on school masking rules appeared to violate local school boards’ right to due process, the judge found. Districts “are not required to secure permission in advance to adopt a policy,” Cooper added.
Cooper’s final ruling enjoined the state from being able to take actions to enforce “a blanket ban on face mask mandates” without giving districts “their due process rights.” However, immediately after Cooper’s order was issued, DeSantis appealed it. Per state law, an appeal from a state office or official automatically results in a stay of a court’s ruling, meaning Cooper’s ruling is not going to be enforced, unless a higher court orders it to be.
DeSantis and members of his administration have stated that they believe they will win their appeal of Cooper’s judicial findings.
“What we’re doing is absolutely within the Constitution, within the law,” Education Department Commissioner Richard Corcoran claimed on Fox News this week.
The DeSantis administration has already placed penalties on two school districts that defied his state mask mandate ban, denying salaries to administrators who have implemented rules on masking in their schools. The Biden administration has promised to help any district across the country that faces such penalties, from DeSantis or other governors trying to impose them.
Florida residents largely disagree with the ban on mask mandates that DeSantis is trying to force onto schools, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll conducted last month. That survey found that 73 percent of Floridians believe that coronavirus is a “serious problem” for the state, and a separate question shows that 59 percent of respondents describe the current situation with the pandemic as “out of control.”
Three out of five respondents in the poll (60 percent) said they support the idea that students, teachers and staff should be required to wear masks in schools, while only 36 percent oppose. A majority of respondents (63 percent) also rejected the notion often pushed by DeSantis that mask-wearing is an issue of “personal freedom” for individuals or parents to decide on, instead aligning with the idea that it’s a public health matter.