Judge poised to issue ruling in school mask case

Zoom court proceeding in Leon County, Florida
Zoom court proceeding in Leon County, Florida

Lawyers challenging and defending Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on school mask mandates rested their cases on Thursday, ahead of an expected ruling Friday morning.

Judge John C. Cooper of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County said he will issue a verbal ruling on the McCarthy vs. DeSantis-DOE case after four days of testimony.

“I think I have considered everything, now I just have to see where they line up in order of the process,” Cooper said at the conclusion of the Zoom hearing broadcast live on YouTube. “I think the lawyers have done a very good job of explaining verbally and in writing the positions in this case. I think I could make arguments for either side of the case.”

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The ruling will carry significant implications for the 10 school districts in Florida— including Alachua County—that have mandated face masks in the opening weeks of the school year. Those mandates go against DeSantis’ July 30 executive order that cited the Parents’ Bill of Rights as it directed the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) and Florida Department of Education (FDOE) to allow parents to opt their children out of wearing face masks at school.

Cooper said a written order would take too long to compile, so that’s why he will deliver his opinion verbally on Friday.

“I can’t guarantee that you will agree with me—you may all disagree with me—but I will do my best and take into account everything I have heard through this last week,” Cooper said before signing off.

The lawsuit, brought by parents who live in Alachua, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach counties, argues that DeSantis’ order preventing school districts from mandating masking violates the Florida Constitution. The suit named the governor, the FDOE, the Florida Board of Education, and Education Commissioner Richard Cocoran as defendants.

The decision, which will air live on YouTube, is likely only the next step in the legal battle over masks in schools. DeSantis has said the school districts are violating the law and the state will appeal if Cooper rules against it.

“If we win in … trial court I’m sure it’ll be appealed on the other side, too,” DeSantis said at a Thursday press conference in Orlando. “And so that’s good, I mean, I think you know, we obviously need to have this stuff crystallized.”

Another group of parents is challenging the order in federal court on the grounds that it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On Thursday the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) voted to allow Superintendent Carlee Simon to explore legal representation for the district, potentially signaling more litigation on the matter.

Editor’s note: Previous stories related to this story include:

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