More mask-mandating school districts prepare for legal battle

covid 19 court
More school districts are facing a reduction in state aid due to student mask mandates.

With the Governor, the Attorney General, and Education Commissioner rallied against them, defiant school districts requiring students to come to school masked-up show no sign of backing down.

Nine school districts were told they had until 5 p.m. Wednesday to respond to a Department of Education letter informing them they were under investigation for violating Gov. Ron DeSantis’ emergency order banning mask mandates and were facing a reduction in state aid by an amount equal to school board members’ salaries.

The Governor’s order bans student mask mandates unless the rules allow parents to opt out. These districts have passed policies that allow students to opt out of mask-wearing only if they have a documented medical reason. And it looks like a lot of them plan to see the state Education Department and the Health Department in court about it.

Sarasota County sent a letter from outside counsel hired to handle the issue. Daniel DeLeo of Shumaker urged the Education Department to declare it a matter of great importance, “so that the Florida Supreme Court can swiftly and lawfully resolve these disputes.” The Palm Beach County School District Wednesday set aside $50,000 to hire a lawyer from Boies Schiler & Flexner. Leon County did the same Thursday, hiring the same lawyer representing Miami-Dade County, Jamie Cole from Weiss Serota Helfman & Bierman, based in South Florida, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

And Miami-Dade schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and School Board Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman responded with a reminder that a Leon County Circuit Court judge had found the Governor’s order to be in violation of the Parents’ Bill of Rights as districts try to contain the deadly threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hyper-contagious delta variant.

“Your threatened enforcement of (DeSantis’ order) is not permitted,” the letter says. “ … As the court ruled, it is pursuant to the Parents’ Bill of Rights that school districts have the right to enact mask mandates in accordance with their constitutional duty … to provide safe, secure schools as long as the mandates are reasonable, based on a compelling interest and narrowly tailored and are the least restrictive means available.”

The state Thursday filed an appeal in the 1st District Court of Appeal to the ruling from Circuit Judge John Cooper.

Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna and School Board Chair Georgia Bowen sent a five-page response outlining inconsistencies between the administration orders and state and federal law. They also shared some raw data.

“Although we appreciate your ‘grave’ concern regarding our technical compliance with (the order), our priority is protecting the health and safety of over 34,000 students, 2,400 teachers and 4,300 employees in the Leon County Schools from a pandemic that has resulted in 43,379 deaths in Florida … In August alone, we have lost 69 lives in Leon County, including two of our children.”

The responses contain accounts of districts struggling with outbreaks of COVID-19 among students and staff.

Indian River County Superintendent David K. Moore said the district had to act to require face masks for children in kindergarten through eighth-grade because the COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and students forced the closure of two schools in addition to causing the deaths of two teachers, all within 16 days of school opening.

A letter signed by Duval Superintendent Diana Greene and School Board Chair Elizabeth Andersen points out the number of cases in the first few weeks of school were on track to quickly outpace the previous year’s number.

“After three weeks of school, there are over 1,600 COVID-19 cases in the District which represents 65% of the total cases from last year,” the letter reads.

The volume of cases overwhelmed the county’s contact tracing capabilities, they wrote.

School districts in Alachua and Broward counties, the first to defy the face mask mandate ban, have already been told state aid will be withheld in an amount equal to the salaries of school board members.

Altogether, school districts in 13 counties have passed mask mandates. Brevard, Lee and Volusia counties passed the requirement for student face coverings this week.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • Ron Ogden

    September 3, 2021 at 10:09 am

    Watch for school boards, Democratic gubernatorial candidates and liberal bloggers to begin to STFU about masks in schools as more and more science is beginning to question them, a la this quote from a West Coast immunologist: “This suggests that masking kids in school does not provide a major benefit and might provide none at all. And yet many officials prefer to double down on masking mandates, as if the fundamental policy were sound and only the people have failed.”

    • Greg Stewart

      September 6, 2021 at 4:36 pm

      That is an opinion from one oncologist/hematologist (he is not an immunologist). In fact, the only thing that “this” (as in “this suggests”) logically suggests is that we dont know from that one study. Very young children may or may not transmit the virus less than older children. And the study referenced in this article showed just the opposite of what you claim. – it is a large study that proves masks work. You might go read that study – it is available online.

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Comments are closed.


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