TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The legal back-and-forth battle over controversial mask mandates in Florida schools took a new turn on Friday, giving a victory to Gov. Ron DeSantis and top state education officials.
The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee reinstated a stay on a recent ruling by a Leon County judge who said DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education cannot ban local school districts from requiring facial coverings for students without the ability to opt out.
Friday's ruling means the state can once again punish school districts that impose universal mask mandates.
Judge John Cooper ruled in August that DeSantis and state education officials cannot penalize districts for mandating masks for students, as long as those policies are "reasonable" and achieve a "compelling state interest."
"Upon our review of the trial court’s final judgment and the operative pleadings, we have serious doubts about standing, jurisdiction, and other threshold matters," the First District Court of Appeal said in its ruling. "These doubts significantly militate against the likelihood of the appellees’ ultimate success in this appeal."
The court added "the stay should have been left in place pending appellate review."
DeSantis has argued for months that parents and guardians should have the final say over whether their children are masked in school.
At least 13 school districts in Florida -- including Palm Beach and Indian River counties -- have defied the governor by imposing sweeping facial covering requirements for students.
So far, only school districts in Broward and Alachua counties have been financially penalized for their mask mandates.
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced the creation of a new grant program called Project SAFE that's designed to replenish any school district funds that may be withheld by the state.