Florida Judge Ends Ban on School Mask Mandates

Carolyn Crist

September 09, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

A Florida judge ruled Wednesday that the state must stop enforcing the ban on mask mandates in schools.

Two weeks ago, Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled that Florida school districts have the right to set policies, such as mask mandates, if they have a "compelling interest" and "narrowly tailored" rule. The state appealed his decision, which delayed the ruling.

But on Wednesday, Cooper declined to issue a stay and said his order should take effect right away, particularly because a ban on masks could harm children.

"We are not in normal times. We are in a pandemic. We have children that can't be protected by vaccination," he said in court, according to NBC Miami.

"Children are at risk, and they provide at least some protection by masking," he said.

Cooper also said the state failed to prove that an appeal would be successful. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's office disagreed with Cooper, NBC News reported.

"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 reopening case last year," Taryn Fenske, the governor's communications director, said in a statement.

DeSantis issued the executive order this summer, banning mask mandates in schools and threatening financial consequences for school districts. Last month, the Florida Board of Education penalized the public school districts in Alachua and Broward counties for approving mask mandates to begin the school year.

Also on Wednesday, a federal judge said he would rule "as quickly as possible" on another case attempting to block Florida from enforcing the ban on mask mandates, NBC Miami reported.

In the case, 12 parents of 15 children with intellectual and developmental disabilities in eight school districts across the state have claimed that the ban denies their students "free and appropriate public education" by allowing unmasked children in classrooms. Their children are more susceptible to severe COVID-19 due to health conditions, and the ban excludes them from the same in-person learning opportunities given to other children, the parents have argued.

In early August, Florida reported record levels of COVID-19 cases, reaching nearly 24,000 new cases per day, according to The Palm Beach Post. At the time, Florida accounted for 1 in 5 new infections nationwide.

Hospitalizations, including those of children, have increased in recent weeks as well, according to The Associated Press. Last week, pediatricians from several Florida hospitals reported a dramatic increase in the number of pediatric patients due to the more contagious Delta variant. They all said more children are hospitalized now than at any other point during the pandemic — and they called for masks in schools.

"Masks definitely decrease the spread among children," Chad Sanborn, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Palm Beach Children's Hospital, told the AP.

"They should be mandatory at schools," he said.

Sources:

NBC News: "Florida judge orders immediate lifting of DeSantis ban on school mask mandates."

NBC Miami: "Florida Judge Orders Immediate Lifting of DeSantis' Ban on School Mask Mandates."

The Palm Beach Post: "Florida logs nearly 24,000 new COVID-19 infections, the most in a single day."

The Associated Press: "As Florida mask fight rages, more children hospitalized."

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