Judge: State cannot garnish school board wages

Wooden gavel on desk with books in background
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Update (9:25 a.m. Sept. 3): Following release of the written decision, the state immediately filed an appeal Thursday evening, triggering an automatic stay to prevent the ruling from taking effect.

In response, the plaintiffs immediately filed an emergency motion to vacate the stay, arguing harm is likely if the circuit court ruling does not take effect. 

Thursday morning Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon said the court’s ruling backs the district’s position that it is not in violation of the Parents’ Bill of Rights. 

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“The legal activity that has occurred since the judge issued his order, including the automatic stay and an emergency motion to lift the stay, are clear signs this issue will continue to be hashed out in the courts,” Simon said in a statement.

While noting the district is not a party to the current case, she said it will play a role in the district’s upcoming litigation: “[T]he order will be an important element of the legal action we will be taking to defend the district’s right to protect students and staff during the current COVID crisis.”

Our original story (9:04 p.m. Sept. 2): 

Judge John C. Cooper of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County delivered his written ruling Thursday that states local school boards can adopt policies addressing the health and education of school children, including face mask mandates.

The written ruling also addresses the garnishing of wages of elected school board members, which the FDOE carried out against the SBAC earlier this week.

“The law of Florida does not permit the Defendants to punish school boards, its members, or officials for adopting face mask mandates with no parental opt-outs if the school boards have been denied their due process rights under the Parents’ Bill of Rights to show that this policy is reasonable and meets the requirements of the statute,” Cooper stated in the ruling.

Attorney Charles Gallagher of Gallagher & Associates Law Firm in St. Petersburg said he and the plaintiffs, who are parents representing students enrolled in school districts throughout the state, are satisfied with the written ruling.

“Our clients are gratified that the Court’s oral ruling is now memorized in a written final judgment and hope that the Defendants comply,” Gallagher said. “Our review of the written final judgment confirms that it is consistent with Judge Cooper’s oral rulings on Friday.”

On Wednesday Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state would continue to enforce the ban on mask mandates as long as the judge’s order was not written—a position backed by Attorney General Ashley Moody. DeSantis told reporters he thought the ruling was taking the judge time to draft because “it’s not an easy opinion to write from a legal perspective, and it’s going to be very vulnerable to being overruled.”

Gallagher disagrees with that statement.

“We stand ready to move to vacate the appellate stay and vigorously defend the appeal filed after the written order,” Gallagher said.

Cooper filed the 37-page document just before 4 p.m. on Thursday.

“Local school boards can adopt policies dealing with the health and education of school children, and to the extent that those policies may affect parents’ rights to control their children’s education or health, then, it is incumbent on the school board, if challenged, to demonstrate its policy’s reasonableness along with the other factors required by the Parents’ Bill of Rights,” Cooper concluded in the ruling. 

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon has continued to state that the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) has acted in the best interest of the students and staff.

In a statement released on Aug. 27 upon Cooper’s verbal ruling, Simon called the ruling “a validation of the right of locally-elected school boards to protect their students and communities during this crisis without fear of political or financial retribution.”

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