An administrative judge has ruled the Florida Department of Health has the authority to set rules on quarantines and mask mandates. The decision found several school boards lack the standing to overrule orders set by Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo or his predecessor.
School boards in Alachua, Duval, Leon, Miami-Dade and Orange counties sued the Health Department over whether Ladapo and the agency could overrule the school districts on setting their own, more restrictive regulations.
Deputy Chief Judge Brian Newman of the Division of Administrative Hearings issued his determination Friday. He said the Health Department gets the call on what restrictions go into place to combat a pandemic.
“The COVID-19 protocols adopted pursuant to section 1003.22(3) should be no more restrictive than necessary to keep children safe and learning in school,” Newman wrote. “The fact that the Emergency Rule achieves this result — and at the same time involves parents in decisions involving their child’s health and education — does not run counter to the broad rulemaking directive.”
Ladapo, shortly after his appointment as Surgeon General, eliminated a statewide requirement students go into quarantine if exposed to COVID-19. He also backed up Gov. Ron DeSantis on a prohibition on school mask mandates that don’t allow parents to opt out for any reason.
Former Surgeon General Scott Rivkees wrote rules enacting the Governor’s order on mandates that do allow districts to put a mandate in place with an opt-out. Those remain in place.
Several districts and parents’ groups have fought DeSantis in various judicial venues about the directives. Parents of disabled children filed a lawsuit earlier this year arguing that lifting many COVID-19-prompted restrictions to curb the spread of the virus discriminated against them because it prevented their children from safely returning to campus. While a Circuit Court ruled in favor of plaintiffs, the 1st District Court of Appeal stayed that ruling.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran this week announced districts that continue with “forced masking policies” must come into compliance or face immediate consequences.