Court challenge to mask mandate continues

Florida Gov. DeSantis’ mandate bans have drawn numerous challenges. Photo courtesy: CNN

In the aftermath  of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning mask mandates for young children in school, school districts across the state have defied the governor. Now the challenge is set to be heard in court — again.

Executive order 21-175 describes schools that do not require students to be masked as not playing a significant role in the transmission of COVID-19, and masking children could lead to negative health ramifications.

Forcing children to wear masks could lead to build-up of bacteria and impurities that could potentially become a threat to their health, according to the order.

The state Legislature also created the “Parents Bill of Rights,” which gives parents the right to make healthcare and educational decisions for their children. The executive order also says that if a school board does not comply with the law, the state Education Department has the authority to withhold state and grant funds until the school board complies.

The order has received so many challenges — at least 12 school districts have enacted mandatory mask policies — that DeSantis agreed the only way to settle was in court.

“We feel that the Legislature really made a big statement with their parental bill of rights, and that’s an important piece of legislation. There will be consequences,” the governor said.

Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and other school districts require masks for their students, defying the governor’s order, and parents have decided to take legal action. Orange and Alachua counties also agreed to challenge the legality in enforcement of the ban, filing a 25-page lawsuit.

In Leon County, the school board voted 3-2 to allow Superintendent Rocky Hanna to enact a mask mandate for grades K-8.

Parents also spoke against his requirement of a medical opt-out form for students who are not masked. More than 3,000 parental opt-out forms were turned in. Hanna says he stands behind his decision, although some speakers at the last school board meeting say they will not vote for him if he decides to run again.

Charles Dodson, a Tallahassee attorney, says school districts should be allowed to mask student and faculty, if they choose to do so. A former circuit judge, Dodson has agreed to represent the families who are against the mandate ban.

Tallahassee resident and former education professor Marcia Collins says she is all for protecting students and faculty.

“I would like to find a way for students to stay home because more faculty members are retiring. They are more vulnerable. If faculty stays home, students should as well. The president has also stated that there is specialized funding to school districts that agree for students to go to school with masks. As a mother, I’d like to stay an informed parent.”

It has been argued by parents that children are more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 because of their immune system. While they are still young, the body is not developed enough to fight such a virus. It is easy for children to spread germs and bacteria from skin-to-skin contact, and interactions.

Since the first week of school, COVID-19 cases were at a rate 10 times higher than the same time last year in Florida.

“Both children and adults are sick and dying as a result of COVID-19. Palpable urgency is needed for immediate review by the Florida Supreme Court,” an unidentified parent said during the school board meeting. “No child has died from the requirement to wear a mask indoors at school. However, children have died from contracting COVID-19.”

Lawyers for DeSantis have filed an appeal with the First District Court of Appeal to pause the school mask mandates while the case is taken to court. This also means school districts can issue mask mandates, for now while the case is under review.