A federal judge on Wednesday, Sept, 15 refused to overturn a ban established by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent Florida students from wearing masks unless by choice during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As TheBL previously reported, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) on Friday, July 30, signed an executive order that forbade schools from imposing a mask requirement, leaving the option up to a parental decision.
“In Florida, there will be no lockdowns, there will be no school closures, there will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said, introducing the order in southwest Cape Coral.
Following the order, county school boards in Florida may not make students wear facial masks when they return to school in August. He said it’s up to parents to determine what is best for their kids.
“I’ll be signing an executive order which directs the Florida Department of Education and the Department of Health to issue emergency rules protecting the rights of parents to make this decision about wearing masks for their children,” DeSantis said, according to Wesh.
Counties that fail to comply with the new law will lose their state funding.
On Wednesday, Sept. 15., a federal judge refused a request by parents of disabled children to stop Gov. Ron DeSantis from preventing school districts from requiring students to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, PalmCoastObserver reported.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Miami, claims that the executive order violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws protecting the rights of students with disabilities.
Attorneys for the parents argue in the federal case that the executive order violates disabilities laws partly because children with disabilities are more vulnerable to COVID-19-related severe illness or death.
“In refusing to allow school districts to implement commonly accepted protections for these children, such as a mask requirement, the Florida governor and his executive departments have essentially excluded them from the public schools and made parents of children with disabilities have to choose between their child’s life and health, and the rights of other parents who do not want their children to be told they must wear a piece of cloth on their face,” the parents’ attorneys wrote in a court document.
However, Judge K. Michael Moore noted in his ruling that before filing a case, the parents should have pursued administrative claims.
The plaintiffs in the case, according to Moore, had varied circumstances, illustrating “that there are unique problems facing plaintiffs, which require unique solutions.”
“The court finds all plaintiffs would be substantially benefited by pursuing administrative remedies that can provide tailored solutions to each child’s individual needs,” Moore wrote. However, in an email, plaintiffs’ attorney Matthew Dietz said that the judge misinterpreted a Supreme Court decision on the expiration of administrative remedies in situations involving disabled children. He noted that administrative preconditions in Florida require at least 75 days to be exhausted. Adding Moore’s decision “essentially blocks all children with disabilities who would be seriously injured or die if they became infected with COVID-19 from being able to return safely to their school,” Dietz said.
“We are disappointed in the decision of the court and are evaluating our options at this point,” Dietz said. However, he added that he “would hope and expect” federal education officials and the U.S. Department of Justice will weigh in “on the rights of children with disabilities to be safely integrated into their local schools.”
DeSantis and state education officials had faced legal challenges in state and federal courts, arguing that parents should be able to determine whether their children wear masks in school.