An appellate court has put Florida’s ban on school mask mandates back in place— at least for now.
“Given the presumption against vacating the automatic stay, the stay should have been left in place pending appellate review,” reads an order from the 1st District Court of Appeal.
Because the state of Florida has appealed a circuit court ruling against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order forbidding mask mandates, the appellate court said that ruling should have been stayed. That means the Governor’s order should remain in place.
Further, the order makes clear appellate judges at least see a legal argument for the state to make on appeal.
“Upon our review of the trial court’s final judgment and the operative pleadings, we have serious doubts about standing, jurisdiction, and other threshold matters,” the order reads. “These doubts significantly militate against the likelihood of the appellees’ ultimate success in the appeal.”
The ruling seems to signal a high probability the appeals court could ultimately accept DeSantis’ argument that Florida’s Parents’ Bill of Rights gives the authority for his order.
DeSantis said that’s because the legislation, which he signed earlier this year, leaves health decisions about children in the hands of parents. He praised the DCA order.
“No surprise here – the 1st DCA has restored the right of parents to make the best decisions for their children. I will continue to fight for parents’ rights,” DeSantis tweeted.
That’s not how the lower court saw things. Circuit Court Judge John Cooper, in a case brought by parents of disabled children, said the same Bill of Rights legislation acknowledges school districts in an emergency can issue policies to protect public health, and thus the Governor’s order actually violated the Parents’ Bill of Rights.
In a written ruling, Cooper made clear he considered any enforcement of a ban on mask mandates would be in defiance of his ruling.
“If the Defendants strictly enforce the Executive Order, the Department of Health rule, or any other policy prohibiting mask mandates without a parental opt-out, then they are acting without authority and are refusing to comply with all provisions of the law,” he wrote.
But sponsors of the legislation say the DeSantis’ argument is correct.
The last order also raises issues of whether plaintiffs had standing to make the case.
Parents of children with special needs said blocking mask mandates limited their ability to send their children to school and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The appellate court order does not mean the court will rule for DeSantis, but it said any stay on his executive order should be shelved until a ruling is made.
Appellate judges Stephanie Ray, Harvey Jay and A.S. Tanenbaum concurred with the order.
Thirteen Florida school districts have mask mandates in effect that only allow parents to opt out with a medical excuse, if at all.
The Governor’s office celebrated what the appellate order signaled.
“Dem media activists framed the initial ruling as ‘crushing defeat for DeSantis’ even though everyone knew the appeal was coming,” said DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw. “Now, the same people will either decline to report on this victory or frame it as ‘NBD, just a temporary setback’ for forced-masking.”
DeSantis at an appearance shortly after the ruling did not address the order directly but drew a juxtaposition between his policies and those of President Joe Biden, including on masks in school.
“He says school boards should be able to eliminate parents rights and force 5-year-old kids to wear masks all day, and that’s what he thinks is appropriate government,” DeSantis said. “… We live in a consitutional system where people’s rights are respected.”