Gov. DeSantis' mask mandate ban once again blocked by judge

State will move forward with appeal
Posted at 11:56 AM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 16:52:47-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A circuit judge granted the motion to vacate the stay of Gov. Ron DeSantis' mask mandate ban for public schools.

Leon Circuit Judge John Cooper heard arguments on the motion Wednesday morning.

The judge said he will allow a previous ruling, which found the governor's ban unlawful, to again take effect.

"Based on the evidence I've heard, there's no harm to the defendants if the stay is set aside," Cooper said.

It's set to last until the state's district court appeal is complete, a process that might need 60 to 90 days, attorneys estimate.

Attorney Charles Gallagher, plaintiff's attorney in school mask mandate ban case
The plaintiff's attorney Charles Gallagher called Wednesday's ruling "a win for schoolchildren."

For now, districts can resume requiring face coverings without parental opt-outs. At least 13 school districts have done so and were facing financial penalties.

Attorneys for pro-mask parents challenging the ban said Wednesday's ruling was a victory.

"It's actually, you know, quite a win for schoolchildren. The school-going public safety there. Now each respective school board can make its own decision on what's best for it," attorney Charles Gallagher said.

However, it's unclear exactly how long Cooper's latest enforcement block will last. The state is asking the higher court to immediately restore the governor’s ban.

Following Wednesday's ruling, the governor's communication's director released the following statement:

"Today we plan to file our emergency motion to reinstate the stay, and we anticipate the appellate court will rule quickly, much like during the school re-opening case last year."

The back and forth legal battle began after Cooper found the governor's ban unlawful last month following a lawsuit brought by pro-mask parents.

Cooper ruled a 2021 law, the Parents' Bill of Rights, protects a district's choice to install protections like a mask mandate provided the measure meets certain criteria if challenged.

"It has to be reasonable, support a state purpose, has to be narrowly drawn and not otherwise accomplished by other means," Cooper said.

The state immediately filed for an appeal of the decision, triggering an automatic pause on Cooper's order. The state's ban and financial penalties were allowed to resume for at least 13 school districts out of compliance.

DeSantis has maintained his executive order and connected administrative rules are lawful. The Republican governor continues to defend the action as protecting a parent's right to choose what's best for the health and wellbeing of their children.

"Why don't we just empower parents," DeSantis said at a press event last Friday. "Let them make the best decision for their kids, and I think it'll end up working out."

The Wednesday ruling, brought by plaintiffs, determined that the pause can be removed while the appeal process runs its course.

This isn’t the only court challenge the mask mandate ban is facing. There are at least two others -- one in federal court and the other filed by several school districts.