School boards around Florida are pushing back against a state prohibition on mask mandates, but the Governor predicts they will lose in the end.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, addressing media in Fort Myers Wednesday, said he expected a Leon County case invalidating his executive order banning mask mandates to be overturned on appeal.
“In terms of the school board,” DeSantis said, “these legislators, you know, passed a law to provide parents with certain rights. And those rights include a number of things, but certainly it includes the right for the parent to opt their kid out of any forced masking.”
DeSantis then presented the loss of the circuit level case as a predictable anomaly given a similar instance last year.
“Now, we had a trial judge in Tallahassee who tried to keep the schools from going open last year, we obviously got that corrected on appeal. You know, we had a decision last week,” DeSantis added. “That’s going to be appealed. And we’ll be successful on that front as well.”
“You can’t take away parents’ rights,” DeSantis added. “Parents do have the right under Florida law to make those decisions ultimately and opt out of any forced requirements.”
The Governor made similar remarks at a second stop in Viera.
“It’s interesting, nobody’s ruled against anything we’ve done yet,” the Governor said, noting a lack of a written ruling nearly a week after the verbal was issued.
“Here we are, days later, we still don’t have it. I think part of the reason we don’t have it is it’s not an easy opinion to write from a legal perspective. I think it’s something that’s going to be very vulnerable to being overruled,” DeSantis said.
The Governor’s position is rooted in the Parents’ Bill of Rights affording parents opt-outs from medical requirements imposed by school districts. However, the presiding judge read the law as meaning school boards, and not the state, had the right to protect student health with mask mandates.
Even before the verbal ruling came down last week from Judge John Cooper, the Governor had vowed to appeal the case to the 1st District Court of Appeal if the state lost. Until the written ruling is filed, however, any appeal is on hold.
More than half of the state’s students attend schools in districts contravening the ban on mask mandates, an indication home rule advocates are frustrated by top-down government.
The Florida Department of Education has vowed “investigations” of noncompliant districts and is penalizing wayward school boards by withholding funding equivalent to their salaries while they have mask rules.
Alachua, Broward, and Duval are among the counties facing those penalties.
School districts in Indian River, Leon, Brevard and Orange counties are some of the latest to flout the executive order and emergency rules.