Judges have begun sending back mixed responses to parents in four Florida counties who’ve asked for action to be taken against school districts requiring students to wear masks.
Lawsuits filed last week against school officials in Alachua, Brevard, Duval and Orange counties say the defendants are in defiance of a state rule which requires school districts to allow parents to opt children out of school mask mandates. The Epoch Times requested comments from attorneys representing the four counties.
Petitions in Palm Beach, Broward and Leon counties will be filed soon, say attorneys close to the cases.
What happens in Florida could have implications nationwide. Attorneys involved in the cases are working with other lawyers across the country in a loose alliance formed by Gainesville attorney Jeff Childers. Their hope is to develop “template” lawsuits that can be used successfully by attorneys across the country, Childers says.
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Education sanctioned seven counties, along with Hillsborough County, Thursday for defying the state’s ban on school mask mandates. All eight superintendents have argued their policies are in compliance and that sanctions should not be imposed, as they are following the law and serving students in the name of safety.
The seven school districts now face financial penalties from the state. However, the Biden Administration has started offering grant money to school districts that suffer financial losses as a result of defying state bans on mask mandates. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education awarded Broward County about $420,000 and Alachua County $147,710 to cover school-board member salaries.
In the courts, attorneys for parents felt they’d won a victory in the case involving Alachua and Duval counties. They had filed an emergency petition for a Writ of Mandamus, an order to a government official to properly fulfill official duties or correct an abuse of discretion.
On the next business day after the petition was filed, the First District Court of Appeal gave the school boards and superintendents four days to “show cause why the petition…should not be granted.”
In the case involving Brevard and Orange counties, the Fifth District Court of Appeal answered by giving parents 10 days to show why their petition “for Writ of Mandamus should not be transferred to the circuit court, which is in a better position to fact find.”
It was not the answer attorneys and parents had hoped to receive, said Childers, who has been advising the attorneys who filed the petition. But he felt confident that the court would be persuaded by their response.
Parents want the Court to tell the school boards and school district superintendents to comply with Florida laws concerning mask opt-outs and quarantine procedures, says Childers. The school boards, he says, are ignoring Florida Department of Health orders that say the decision about whether or not a student should wear a mask at school belongs solely to each child’s parent.
Childers put aside corporate clients recently to focus solely on representing people affected by mask and vaccine mandates and other “freedom issues,” without requiring a promise to pay. He hopes to take the fights across the country.
In his home county of Alachua, Childers delivered a 200-page binder to each school board member outlining why the local school superintendent is inappropriate and unqualified to hold her position. Superintendent Carlee Simon has become a frequent guest on television news and is engaged in a public battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over the mask issue.
Since Simon started in the job in July, parents have spoken out at school board meetings against her, not just for her determination to keep students masked in school, but also because of her commitment to policies related to equity in schools, an idea stemming from critical race theory.
“She’s a social justice warrior” and many parents want her removed from her job, Childers said.
Simon could not be reached for comment. Parents in the county she serves aren’t all against her policies. Many have praised her defiance of the state’s moves to block the mask mandate, and her plan to “reimagine” the district’s schools.
Simon shared her “reimagining plan” with the school board in a 182-slide PowerPoint that described the creation of at least 24 administrative positions, including a Chief of Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement to oversee a new division.