A Leon County judge has defeated Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ school mask mandate ban, but the Governor remains confident his order will be reinstated because of how the judge blocked it.
DeSantis’ executive order prohibited public schools from requiring students to wear masks, unless schools allow parents to opt their children out of the requirement. The Governor rooted his order in the Parents’ Bill of Rights, a law he signed in June that provides parents freedom from the state and public schools in how they raise their children — extending to decisions about education, health care and mental health.
Despite the state basing its defense on the Parents’ Bill of Rights, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled against DeSantis’ executive order on Friday. Cooper argued the order didn’t fully follow the measure by preemptively banning mask mandates without allowing school districts to prove they were reasonable.
Speaking in Jacksonville on Monday, DeSantis told reporters he thinks that gives the state “really good grounds” from which to appeal. Parents sued the state, not school boards, raising questions from the Governor on whether it was legally justified to use that as a basis for defeating the order.
“It’ll be appealed. We’ll end up getting it back,” DeSantis said. “At the end of the day, ultimately, we’re just trying to stand with the parents.”
More than half of the state’s students attend schools in districts flouting DeSantis’ order. School board members from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties held a virtual news conference Wednesday to discuss the possibility of suing DeSantis and the state.
Even before Cooper issued his ruling verbally, the Governor had vowed to appeal the case to the 1st District Court of Appeal if the state lost.
Masks help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, shielding those wearing them from the virus and protecting others around them. During the trial, parents argued that science, and the fact that children younger than 12 can’t get vaccinated yet, is why school districts should be able to require masks for all.
However, DeSantis cites research — which Cooper called a minority medical opinion — saying children are more likely to get infected by their parents than from each other. Parents still have the right to require that their children wear masks, he added.
“No one’s saying you can’t have that. That’s your decision,” DeSantis said. “I think a lot of parents would look at it and say they’re more concerned about making sure their kids do well in school than they would be worried about that.”
DeSantis also predicted parents would have sued school districts under the Parents’ Bill of Rights if schools had banned masks altogether.
“I’ll bet you you’d have parents sue under the Parents’ Bill of Rights, say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I think this is in the best interest of my child to go to school to wear — you know what, I think that they would win on that,” DeSantis said.
Hospitals across the state have seen a record number of patients with COVID-19 this month. Despite children still being the least at risk for severe infections, more children have tested positive and been hospitalized with the delta variant, which is more contagious and leads to more severe infections than previous strains. But DeSantis maintains the increase in positive cases among children is because more children are getting tested now that classrooms are open across the state.
“I think as the whole back to school stuff, and some of that testing goes … I actually think it’s going down in the school-aged kids,” he said. “I just think that they’re testing so much that the numbers are being held, but the percent positive I do think is going down.”
The COVID-19 report from the Florida Department of Health last week showed cases declining among all age groups except those 12 to 19. The state’s week-to-week case positivity rate declined for the first time since the latest surge began. However, the state doesn’t report the case positivity rate per age cohort.