DeSantis fires back on masks as disabled students are now suing Iowa
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appealed a trial court’s judgment that would allow school districts to require all students to wear masks to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The appeal was filed in the 1st District Court of Appeal soon after the final judgment was recorded late Thursday afternoon in the 2nd Judicial Circuit.
Attorneys for parents of students with disabilities or health conditions, such as asthma, filed a motion to vacate the automatic stay to allow the trial court’s injunction to remain so school districts can require students and adults to wear masks inside school buildings.
The Florida Department of Education has cut state funding to some of the 13 districts that have defied the governor’s executive order prohibiting universal masking in schools.
Second Judicial Circuit Court Judge John C. Cooper ruled that the governor’s executive order exceeded the authority granted under the state’s Parents’ Bill of Rights to direct their children’s education and health.
DeSantis has maintained that mask mandates violate parents’ rights unless schools allow parents to opt out. Cooper ruled that the bill exempts reasonable governmental actions to protect public health if those rules are limited in scope—such as masking students to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
School closings tracker: Where districts are shutting down again due to COVID-19 outbreaks
The Florida districts that have so far mandated masks have not lifted the requirements even as DeSantis and members of his administration threaten funding cuts and other punishments.
“It is clear that the School Board has a compelling state interest in controlling a deadly communicable disease, like COVID-19,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and School Board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman said in a letter to the state obtained by the Miami Herald. “Accordingly, the School Board relied on the advice of medical and public health experts and exercised its duty to protect the lives and health of students and employees through the least restrictive means possible.”
The COVID positivity rate among students in Hillsborough County Public School on Florida’s west coast has dropped by 23% since masks were mandated by an emergency rule on Aug. 18, district leaders said in a letter sent Wednesday to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
“This preliminary data suggests the emergency rule has been a critical component in combating the spread of COVID-19,” Superintendent Addison G. Davis and School Board Chair Lynn L. Gray wrote in the letter, in which they also said they believe their mandate complies with state laws.
And officials in the School District of Palm Beach County say the district has had more cases during a month of classes this school year than it did in all of 2020-21, WPTV.com reported.
As of Friday, the district confirmed 3,908 cases among students and staff, compared to about 3,800 cases last school year, according to WPTV.com.
Another state mandates staff vaccines
In Iowa, a group of parents of students with disabilities is suing Gov. Kim Reynolds over her ban on mask mandates. The lawsuit argues that the state is violating students’ rights to access education, the Des Moines Register reported.
Iowa is one of five states being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for potentially discriminating against students with disabilities who are at greater risk for severe COVID.
Governors in other states are moving in the opposite direction of DeSantis and Reynolds. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration is now requiring all teachers, administrators and other school employees to get vaccinated.
Those who do not show proof of vaccine will be tested for COVID every week.
“My top priority is to get children back to school and protect the environment so they can learn and everyone is safe,” Hochul said in a statement.
On the opposite side of the country, Washington state released details of its extensive school COVID-testing program. About 300 districts have signed on to the program, which offers a range of testing options.
“School-based COVID testing should help give parents peace of mind,” said Dr. Umair A. Shah, Washington’s secretary of health. “It’s part of a layered approach in our schools that will allow us to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”
Dayna Straehley covers best practices for Title I and other school funding issues for LRP Publications.