A Florida judge said Wednesday that state officials cannot enforce Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on school mask mandates while the administration appeals the jurist’s earlier decision in the matter.
Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper lifted an automatic stay of his ruling handed down last month, which stated that DeSantis and state education officials overstepped their authority by issuing an executive order outlawing mask mandates and threatening to cut the salary of school board members who defied it.
During a hearing held remotely, Cooper said the state had failed to prove lifting the stay would lead to irreparable harm.
“We’re not in normal times. We are in a pandemic,” the judge said at one point. “We have a [COVID-19] variant that is more infectious and dangerous to children than the one we had last year.”
Since DeSantis signed his order July 30, 13 school boards representing more than half of the Sunshine State’s 2.8 million students have adopted mask requirements with an opt-out only for medical reasons.
DeSantis has insisted that parents, not school officials, should have the final say on whether their children should wear masks in class, a position that has put him in conflict with the Biden administration as well as teachers unions.
Cooper said Wednesday that his ruling follows a law passed earlier this year by the Florida legislature reserving health and education decisions regarding children to parents unless a government entity — such as a school board — can show their action is reasonable and narrowly tailored to the issue at hand.
The order signed by DeSantis in July, the judge stated, impermissibly enforces only the first part of that law.
“You have to show you have authority to do what you’re doing,” Cooper said. “You cannot enforce part of that law but not all of it.”
A spokesperson for DeSantis told NBC News the governor’s office would file an emergency motion to reimpose the stay. The case next goes before the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, but could ultimately be settled by the Florida Supreme Court.
DeSantis said during an appearance Wednesday in Palm Harbor that he is confident the state will prevail in the end.
“What we’ve found is in the trial courts in Tallahassee, state and federal, we typically lose if there’s a political component to it, but then in the appeals court we almost always win,” the governor said.
In a separate case, parents of special needs children have filed a federal lawsuit claiming the DeSantis mask mandate ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by placing their medically sensitive children in jeopardy.
A federal judge in Miami did not immediately rule after a hearing Wednesday in that case.
With Post wires