4 Florida districts sue over mask crackdown they say lacks ‘logic or reason’

Miami-Dade claims Gov. DeSantis has falsely stated that science does not justify requiring students to wear masks
By: | September 8, 2021

Several Florida school districts have just sued Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration, challenging its aggressive efforts to block school mask mandates as COVID continues its latest surge.

In a joint lawsuit, which was posted to a state website Tuesday, the Alachua, Broward and Orange county school boards claim the administration’s banning of school mask mandates will increase the risk of COVID transmission in classrooms.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools filed its own lawsuit this week, saying the DeSantis administration’s actions run “counter to the express legislative intent that schools remain open safely.”

And on Wednesday, in a lawsuit brought by Florida parents, a Leon County judge ruled the mask mandate ban will not remain in effect while DeSantis appeals an earlier ruling that invalidated his ban, The Palm Beach Post reported.

Opt-outs are a big issue

Alachua, Broward and Orange counties are taking aim at the Department of Health’s August emergency rule, which said mandates would be unfair to students with disabilities who cannot wear masks and that parents should have unlimited ability to opt-out of any face-covering requirements.

“The Emergency Rule ignores the harm caused to children, including children with disabilities who would be deprived of the opportunity for in-person learning … if they are unable to safely attend school in-person and force exposure to persons not wearing face coverings,” the lawsuit says.

“Indeed, the Emergency Rule aggravates that deprivation by prohibiting elected school boards to take measures to limit such exposure.”

Mask momentum

Nationally, nearly two-thirds of parents supported masks mandates for students and teachers as well as vaccine mandates for school staff, according to a USA Today/Ipsos Poll.

Nearly 60% of those surveyed also supported vaccine mandates for eligible students.

The districts also challenged the administration for touting its emergency rule as guidance for controlling the spread of COVID in schools. Giving families the unlimited ability to opt-out would do the opposite of preventing transmission, the lawsuit says.

“There is simply no logic or reason to support the contention that an unlimited opt-out will control the spread of COVID-19,” the suit says. “There is no logic or reason to support the Emergency Rule provisions that permit Symptomatic/Positive students to return to school sooner than COVID-19 exposed students.”

Scientific justification?

Miami-Dade’s lawsuit also targets DeSantis’ July executive order that said only parents could decide whether their children wore masks to school.

“The Executive Order makes conclusory statements denying the well-recognized efficacy of mask-wearing,” the suit says. “Without any elaboration or attempted justification, the Executive Order falsely states, ‘forcing students to wear masks lacks a well-grounded scientific justification.’”

Last week, DeSantis appealed a trial court ruling that struck down his mask mandate ban. His administration has also threatened to withhold salaries of Alachua and Broward county school board members who have supported the districts’ mask mandates.

Wednesday’s ruling in Leon County also blocks the state from withholding those salaries, according to The Palm Beach Post.