COVID-19 cases may be waning, but the lawsuits over COVID-19 policies in schools are raging on.
Six school districts joined forces to sue the state Wednesday, asserting local boards’ right to determine COVID-19 safety policies for their districts.
State rules, made after Gov. Ron DeSantis called for a mask mandate ban, give parents the right to determine whether their children will wear masks or quarantine after exposure to the virus. But school districts in Alachua, Broward, Duval, Leon, Miami-Dade and Orange counties say they are following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to best protect the the health and safety of everyone in school buildings.
“The DOH rule runs counter to the express legislative intent that schools remain open safely and in accordance with, among other things, federal health agency guidelines,” the suit reads.
The 328-page case filed with the Division of Administrative Hearings says the state is wading into territory beyond its authority.
The Department of Health is not championing health, safety and the control of disease in making these rules and punishing school districts, the suit asserts. All the districts in the suit are facing decreases in state aid due to their mask policies.
“The DOH rule challenged in this petition is actually focused not on controlling COVID-19, but rather on protecting parental rights,” reads the case filed by attorneys Jamie A. Cole, Edward Guedes and Richard Rosengarten of Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman. “The DOH does not have rulemaking authority in this area, and thus exceeded it rulemaking authority.”
The DOH will be defending its rules, said Christina Pushaw, the Governor’s spokeswoman.
The rules, Pushaw said, ensure “Florida parents have the right to make the best choices for their own children regarding masks, as well as quarantines of asymptomatic students. The school boards who brought this challenge need to start following the law.”
The Governor’s prohibition against mask mandates has spawned a flurry of court cases. Parents of children with disabilities filed suit against DeSantis’ order and the subsequent rules. A ruling in that suit that sided with the parents is currently under state administration appeal. Parents in Alachua, Duval and Hillsborough counties have filed suit against districts’ mandatory mask policies, though Hillsborough County’s school district this week dropped its mask policy.
School districts in Alachua, Broward, Leon and Orange counties filed suit earlier, but that case was scuttled when the order those districts were suing over was withdrawn. The state’s Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo issued a new one that added student quarantines to the COVID-19 protocols that parents could decide on.
The new suit also argues for schools’ rights to keep COVID-19-exposed students quarantined and that following COVID-19 protocols is more than a decision about the health of one’s child.
“A parent’s decision whether his or her child should wear a mask is not a health care decision for that child, but it is a non-health care related to the protection of other children and teachers …” the suit reads.