A Florida judge on Friday struck down a ban on mask mandates issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis that targeted local school districts.
Tallahassee-based Judge John Cooper, who was elected to his position in 2002, ruled that DeSantis and the Florida Board of Education’s actions against mask mandates for children don’t have “legal authority” and are “arbitrary.”
“I conclude that this evidence demonstrates that facemask policies that follow [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance are, at this point in time, reasonable and consistent with the best scientific and medical and public opinion guidance at this time,” Cooper wrote. “I am enforcing the bill passed by the Legislature and requiring that anyone who uses that bill has to follow all of the provisions, not some of the provisions.”
DeSantis had argued that his order would grant parents’ the sole authority to decide if their child wears a mask in school.
Cooper said that while the governor and others have argued that a new Florida law gives parents the ultimate authority to oversee health issues for their children, it also exempts government actions that are needed to protect public health and are reasonable and limited in scope. He said a school district’s decision to require student masking to prevent the spread of the virus falls within that exemption.
DeSantis has dismissed the masking recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as not applicable to Florida. Cooper cited numerous Florida laws and statutes covering health care in nursing homes, prisons, and elsewhere that say state decision-makers should give great weight to CDC guidelines.
On Thursday, the governor vowed to appeal.
“If we win in trial court, I’m sure it will be appealed on the other side too. And so that’s good, I think we obviously need to have this stuff crystallized,” DeSantis remarked, adding that he and other administration officials believe “the Legislature really made a big statement with their parental bill of rights, and that’s an important piece of legislation.”
At the same time, according to DeSantis, parents who don’t agree with mandatory mask mandates in schools will likely file a lawsuit of their own.
In arguments before the judge, Michael Abel, a lawyer representing Florida and DeSantis, said that protecting parents’ right to choose whether their children wear masks provides a “legitimate state interest,” noting that the order took into account the public’s health interests.
“The plaintiffs contend that parent choice stops when it comes to public health. The plaintiffs (are) very clear, it’s one or the other—public health means no parent choice,” Abel said. “Now, the defendants contend, and what the evidence has shown, it’s not one or the other. It’s both. You can protect public health and have parent choice. The governor’s executive order reflects a careful balancing of those interests.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.