A Florida judge on Friday struck down Governor Ron DeSantis’ controversial executive order barring school districts from mandating masks in schools.
Reading from his notes, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper said DeSantis’ ban “does not meet constitutional muster,” according to a CBS affiliate in south Florida. Cooper’s ruling has not yet been put in writing, but he said he plans to sign the order Monday. He added that he expects the ruling to be appealed, which DeSantis vowed to do on Thursday in advance of his loss.
In his decision, Cooper sided with eight parents who sued DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education, and the Florida Board of Education. The parents claimed that the ban prevented educators from ensuring a safe learning environment for their children and “endangered all Floridians.”
To come to his decision, Cooper noted that DeSantis’ executive order hinged on a law that took effect July 1 called the “parents’ bill of rights” law.
“This orphan statute does not support a statewide order or any action interfering with the constitutionally provided authority of local school districts to provide for the safety and health of children, based on the unique facts on the ground,” Cooper said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The law states that the government may not “infringe on the fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of his or her minor child.” But, it goes on to say that those rights can indeed be infringed if the government can demonstrate that any infringing policy is “reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest.”
Reasonable and necessary
The “evidence demonstrates that face mask policies that follow CDC guidance are, at this point in time, reasonable and consistent with the best scientific and medical and public opinion guidance at this time,” Cooper concluded in court Friday. Moreover, Cooper determined that the law doesn’t allow for a ban on mask mandates at all, rather, it provides an avenue for parents to challenge school boards that institute mask mandates to provide evidence that the mandate is reasonable and necessary.
“My ruling in this case—if you want to put it in one sentence—is: I am enforcing the bill passed by the Legislature and requiring that anyone who uses that bill to follow all provisions and not part of the provisions,” Cooper said, referring to the bit prohibiting infringement without the “reasonable and necessary” catch.
DeSantis’ ban on school mask mandates has been at the center of intense criticism and controversy as new school terms begin and the state shatters records for new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that at least 10 school boards had defied the Governor’s order and issued mask mandates anyway. Those districts include some of the largest in the state, resulting in over half of Florida’s 2.8 million public school students being under a mask mandate.
DeSantis has, in turn, threatened to penalize districts by withholding salaries and funds if they defied his order. That sparked a war of words with the Biden administration, which has said that federal funds could cover any withheld funds to educators. The administration has also repeatedly told DeSantis to “get out of the way.”