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Florida's mask mandate ban for public schools back in effect, for now

'Why don't we just empower parents?' asked Gov. Ron DeSantis
School children wearing masks
Posted at 4:01 PM, Sep 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 17:09:24-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The mask mandate ban is back in effect for Florida's public schools. That's after the state filed a notice to appeal Thursday evening.

It now puts Leon Circuit Court Judge John Cooper's ruling on pause until the higher district court weighs in.

Charles Gallagher is a lead attorney challenging the ban and said the appeal could take 60 to 90 days to complete. He intended to fight to get Cooper's block reinstated during that period.

Gallagher has entered an emergency motion to vacate, set for discussion next Wednesday at 10 a.m.

"We feel good about it," Gallagher said. "I think the underlying basis is that of school safety and the choice of the districts to make their own decisions. The real underlying issue is that of -- to best mitigate the pandemic issues."

At least 13 districts remain out of compliance. The state has punished two with financial sanctions. Officials also vowed in a Thursday email sent to superintendents that enforcement would continue.

"Judge Cooper issued his order this afternoon, and subsequently the notice of appeal has been filed, so Judge Cooper's order has been 'stayed,'" said Public School Chancellor Jacob Oliva. "This 'stay' means the Education defendants may resume enforcement of the Health Department rule, with the caveat that enforcement must cease if the stay is lifted."

So far, no districts appear ready to reverse course. Some have started preparing their own legal challenge.

Alachua County's school superintendent said in a statement Friday that Cooper's written order confirmed that their mask mandate does not violate Florida law, despite lacking an opt-out for parents.

"Alachua County Public Schools is not a party to the current case," said Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon. "However, the judge's order will be an important element of the legal action we will be taking to defend the district's right to protect students and staff during the current COVID crisis.”

The governor, meanwhile, has remained certain of a future victory.

He said Thursday he was "very confident" in the state's appeal and continued to defend his order as protecting the "parental right" to choose.

"Why don't we just empower parents," he said. "Let them make the best decision for their kids, and I think it'll end up working out."