JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida's governor on Monday vowed to win an appeal over a judge's recent decision to allow public school districts to issue universal mask mandates for students without the ability to opt out.
Judge John Cooper of the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court of Florida ruled Friday that Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education cannot ban school officials from requiring masks for students.
Cooper's critical decision was a major victory for school districts in Palm Beach and Indian River counties -- among at least eight others -- which are requiring children to wear facial coverings inside school buildings and on school district transportation.
The only exceptions are for students with certain medical conditions.
Speaking in Jacksonville on Monday, DeSantis reiterated his firm stance that parents should have the final say over whether their children should be masked in school, guaranteeing a legal victory during the appeals process.
"It'll be appealed. We'll end up getting it back," DeSantis said. "I think we're gonna have really good grounds to appeal."
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DeSantis and other state education officials believe the issue of masking falls squarely under the guidelines of the newly passed Parents' Bill of Rights, which gives parents and guardians general control over a child's education, upbringing, and health care.
However, Cooper on Friday said the law doesn't mention anything about preventing school mask mandates, adding that DeSantis doesn't have the authority to issue a blanket ban of that kind.
"The defendants do not have authority under this law to a blanket, mandatory ban against a face mask policy that does not provide a parental opt out," Cooper said. "They simply do not have that authority."
DeSantis on Monday argued the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant "remains a low risk for students."
The governor's staunch opinion directly defies guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend "universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status."
"We just want parents to be able to have their kids be in the best situation to learn and to grow," DeSantis said. "We just want kids to be able to learn in the best environment. And obviously, we want parents to have a say in that."
In issuing his ruling Friday, Cooper said the Florida Department of Education cannot punish school districts that enact universal mask mandates for students.