Florida can’t enforce ban on school mask mandates, judge rules

Florida school districts will be allowed to impose mask mandates after a judge ruled against Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, saying the state cannot block the restrictions. The ruling takes effect immediately and will remain in place while the state appeals the decision.

“We’re not in normal times. We are in a pandemic,” Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper said during a virtual hearing, according to The Associated Press. “We have a (coronavirus) variant that is more infectious and dangerous to children than the one we had last year.”

Cooper said evidence shows that wearing masks provides some protection when in crowded settings such as schools. The judge emphasized the pandemic’s presence within the state and noted that children under 12 years old are still ineligible to receive the vaccine.

“Based on the evidence I’ve heard, there’s no harm to the state if the stay is set aside,” he said.

After the ruling, the governor’s office said in a statement to CBS affiliate WKMG-TV there is “no surprise here that Judge Cooper concluded that he is unlikely to be overruled on appeal.”

“We (unsurprisingly) disagree,” said Taryn Fenske, the communications director for the governor’s office. “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.”

In July, DeSantis signed an executive order barring school districts in the state from requiring face masks and allowing parents instead to decide whether or not their children wear them while at school.

As the Delta variant fueled a record-breaking surge of COVID-19 cases in Florida, at least 10 school boards defied state regulations and implemented mask mandates. In response, the Florida Board of Education imposed funding cuts for school board members in school districts that stood down on their mask mandate policies.

Days after the sanctions took effect, Cooper overturned the ban, saying his executive order “is without legal authority,” CBS Miami reported. DeSantis appealed the ruling, which placed an automatic stay on the judge’s decision and allowed the ban to continue.

The appeal now moves to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. DeSantis said he believes Florida will win the larger case and that his ban on mask mandates in schools will be reinstated.

“In the trial courts in Tallahassee state and federal, we typically lose if there’s a political component to it. Then in the appeals court, we almost always win,” DeSantis said at a Wednesday news briefing. “I’m confident we’ll end up winning on appeal.”