Florida’s ban on school mask warrants may remain in place while a legal challenge makes its way through the courts, an appeals court ruled on Friday. It is overturning the ruling of a lower court judge who suspended the ban and allowed the state’s largest school districts to demand face coverings amid a deadly wave of coronavirus.
Tallahassee First District Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and other state officials means Florida Department of Education can continue to punish school officials that impose mask mandates with no opt-out provision available. for the parents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised everyone in schools to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.
“In the Tallahassee trial courts, state and federal, we usually lose if there is a political component, but in the appeals court we almost always win,” DeSantis said on Wednesday.
The state has started withholding funds equivalent to the monthly salaries of school board members in two districts – Alachua in Gainesville and Broward in Fort Lauderdale – who were the first to put in place strict mask mandates. In total, 13 of Florida’s 67 districts have imposed similar mandates, in defiance of the state.
Florida’s uncompromising stance on mask warrants prompted a response from the Department of Education’s civil rights office, which on Friday announced it was investigating whether Florida was preventing schools from meeting student needs. disabled. The bureau was already investigating five other states with mask warrant bans.
The inquiries keep the Biden administration’s promise to use the power of the federal government – including civil rights inquiries and lawsuits – to intervene in states where governors and other policymakers have spoken out against the warrants mask in public schools. The CDC recommends that everyone in schools wears masks, regardless of vaccination status.
The Biden administration has pledged to restore funding to any district penalized for implementing CDC mitigation recommendations, such as universal masking. The federal education ministry has already informed districts that they can use federal relief funds to fill the gaps, and announced on Thursday a new grant program this would provide an additional pot of funding to make districts whole if they are financially penalized.
In a brief ruling, three judges from the more conservative appeals court wrote on Friday that they had “serious doubts” about the core issues of the case, including whether the parents who filed the original complaint had legal capacity to do.
“These doubts militate significantly against the likelihood of the respondents’ ultimate success in this appeal,” they wrote.
Late last month, after a four-day trial, Judge John C. Cooper of the state’s Second Judicial Circuit ruled in favor of parents, saying school district mask warrants were narrow, reasonable and necessary to protect a compelling state interest – namely, the safety of students and staff. The state immediately requested a stay or suspension of the decision, pending its appeal.
Judge Cooper dismissed the suspension on Wednesday, briefly allowing the mask warrants to remain in place until the appeals court ruling on Friday.
Erica L. Green contributed reporting.