Reactions were abundant Friday afternoon after a Leon County court decided Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration cannot block school districts from requiring masks.
While the battle over masks in schools is far from over, many have already weighed in on Judge John Cooper’s ruling that Florida law does not permit the state to enforce bans on mask mandates against school districts fighting COVID-19.
Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which he referred to as the “gold standard” on public health, Cooper called face masks “reasonable and consistent with the best scientific and medical guidance in the country at this time.”
Reactions from officials so far have been divided along party lines, with Republicans and staff from DeSantis’ office objecting while Democrats laud the verdict.
DeSantis’ office told Florida Politics it was “not surprising that Judge Cooper would rule against parents’ rights and their ability to make the best educational and medical decisions for their family, but instead rule in favor of elected politicians,” adding the ruling “was made with incoherent justifications, not based in science and facts” or “the merits of the case presented.”
Communications Director Taryn Fenske said the administration “will immediately appeal” the ruling in the 1st District Court of Appeal, where administration officials are “confident” it will prevail on the merits of the case.
“We are used to the Leon County Circuit Court not following the law and getting reversed on appeal, which is exactly what happened last year in the school reopening case,” she said.
Cooper’s verdict “discards the rule of law” and “conflicts with basic and established rights of parents to make private health and education decisions for children,” Florida Department of Education spokesman Jared Ochs said.
Others expressed jubilance at the decision, including Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a frequent critic of DeSantis who is running for Governor. She demanded he stop blocking “common sense” protective measures.
“Governor, it’s past time to walk away from this ridiculous, politically motivated fight and focus instead on working together to protect the people of Florida by encouraging scientifically-proven (sic) vaccines and mask guidelines,” Fried said in a statement.
She called the ruling “a win for common sense, for children’s safety, and for all the families and school officials who have been fighting to protect their loved ones, students and staff.”
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Florida Governor who is also running to replace DeSantis, called the state mask mandate ban “outrageous” and the ruling a “huge win for all of Florida — our students, teachers, families, schools and economy.”
“This verdict helps keep our schools and economy open, while continuing to protect lives,” Crist said.
He said later by email: “Under (DeSantis’) watch, classes and schools have been forced to close, over 3 million Floridians have gotten sick with COVID-19, our hard fought economic comeback has been threatened and our teachers, students, and parents have become collateral damage in his political crusade.”
Sen. Gary Farmer of Fort Lauderdale fired off a tweet at around 1 p.m. declaring it a “big win for the good guys…and for the rule of law…and for science…and for common sense.”
In another Twitter post, he blasted DeSantis’ prior actions as “unconstitutional and authoritarian overreaches” but noted masking proponents “still have a fight ahead of us…”
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava similarly applauded Cooper’s ruling.
“Utilizing every tool we have to protect our students and teachers from COVID should be — and must be — common sense,” she wrote on Twitter. “It’s how we slow the spread and keep our community and families safe.”
Just after 2 p.m. three members of the Florida House Democratic Caucus added their opinions.
“We should not be surprised by today’s decision that no one, not even the Governor, is above the law in Florida,” The Caucus co-leader, Rep. Evan Jenne of Hollywood, said in a statement. “The operation of our public schools constitutionally belongs to the school boards. This was overreach, pure and simple. I hope the Governor will take the time to pause to move back to his early position that the best government to make local decisions is local government. That was working for us and it could work for us again. There is no reason to waste taxpayer dollars appealing today’s decision which upheld constitutional separation of powers and upheld local decision-making.”
Rep. Fentrice Driskell concurred, anticipating DeSantis “will waste no time in appealing this decision at public expense to try and tighten his grip on local government.”
“I wish he would just go back to campaigning for President and let this decision stand,” she wrote.
Rep. Michael Grieco of Miami Beach added that Cooper “followed the law, something I wish everyone else in government would do, especially when we are talking about the health of children and educators.”
At around 2:30 p.m., Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz sent a statement by email praising “courageous school boards” in Florida, including those in Alachua, Broward, Duval, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, that defied DeSantis’ executive order banning school mask rules.
“Governor DeSantis’ unconstitutional executive order banning mask protocols in schools was born from a stunning combination of blind political ambition and stupefying irresponsibility,” Diaz said. “It is an outrage parents had to go to court to force this administration to accept the decision of local school leaders to implement the public health measures they deemed necessary to save lives.”
Fifteen minutes later, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls opined: “I stand firmly on the side of parental rights because parents, not local governments or school boards, are in the best position to make choices for their children.”
School officials also provided reactions.
Steve Gallon, the Miami-Dade School Board member who sponsored the resolution to bring back mask rules for public schools countywide, said the ruling, in effect, showed that those who accused School Boards of violating the state’s Parents’ Bill of Rights “are themselves in violation” of it.
Indian River Schools Superintendent David Moore said in 4:41 p.m. statement that Judge Cooper’s decision “validates that the School District of Indian River County is acting well-within (sic) their authority on the issue of using face coverings to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our schools and is not violating the rights of parents.”
The Hillsborough school district agreed: “We will continue to make the health and safety of students and staff a top priority.”
The Florida Department of Health reported 20,331 children younger than 12 tested positive for COVID-19 Aug. 13-19, a marked uptick from the week prior, when the agency listed 16,754 new cases.