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Judge to rule on Florida's public school mask mandate ban on Friday

At least ten districts are now violating the governor's order.
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Posted at 9:33 AM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 10:48:01-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Leon County Circuit Judge said Wednesday he'll determine the fate of the governor’s mask mandate ban for Florida’s public schools by the end of the week.

Judge John Cooper with Florida's 2nd Judicial Circuit, said he planned to rule on the executive order this Friday. His comments follow three days of testimony from witnesses for the plaintiffs and defendants.

“Whatever the result in this case, I think we could suggest to the Supreme Court if they want to know how to try a case really fast, this might be a good case study,” Cooper said.

The lawsuit was brought earlier this month by pro-mask parents alleging the ban risks the health and safety of students. The governor and ed officials have said the "Parents’ Bill of Rights," a 2021 law, protects a parent’s decision to opt-out of any school district's mask mandate.

Attorneys for the governor spent Wednesday mounting a fierce defense of the order. They brought before the judge parents who testified masking would harm the education of their children.

Ashley Benton is a mother of four students at Leon County Schools. The district is one of at least ten defying the state's rules, not offering the ban's required parental opt-outs. The still permitted medical waivers, Benton said, have been hard to secure.

“My fifth grader has childhood apraxia,” she said. “I mean, at this point, if I can’t get the medical opt-out, I think I’m going to have to pull her out of school.”

A high-ranking Florida Department of Education official was also on the stand. Public School Chancellor Jacob Oliva discussed state data on school masking from 2020.

"It was statistically really insignificant," he said. “There wasn’t any difference between a district that had a mask mandate policy and the number of cases versus a district that didn’t have.”

The Centers for Disease Control continues to recommend face coverings for everyone in school, citing numerous studies. Plaintiffs have emphasized that science and potential risk to children.

Tuesday, Dr. Tony Kriseman, a pediatric pulmonologist, told the court there was "good data" backing masking.

“If this were a noncontagious disease, like tetanus, you could say to a parent you’re free not to get a shot for your child," he said. "But the parents' choice doesn’t only impact the child— it’s a global decision.”

Cooper will hear closing arguments from both sides on Thursday. He expected to issue his ruling after a day and a half of review, Friday morning.