Judge to decide on mask rule challenge in 2 weeks

Administrative law judge Brian Newman will decide the fate of a challenge to a health department COVID-19 rule on Nov. 5.

After two days of listening to expert testimony from medical professionals, Florida Department of Education (FDOE) representatives and receiving depositions from school district staff, Newman congratulated attorneys from both sides of the issue for maintaining professionalism throughout the proceedings before the Division of Administrative Hearings.

During part two of the hearing held on Friday, Dr. Aileen Marty, infectious disease specialist and professor at Florida International University (FIU) and FDOE Senior Chancellor Jacob Oliva testified.

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Marty said ideal masking in schools should be 100 percent, “in order to reduce risk for everyone in the school,” and added that allowances for certain kinds of medical issues should be allowed, meaning “for students incapable of wearing a mask.”

Marty, who said she researched leprosy and the Ebola virus among other infectious diseases for the United States military and universities, was also asked about quarantine protocol.

“It’s an old idea that has been in the books for a long time,” she said. Adding that quarantines are “tried and true methods of reducing transmission.”

The two topics in the current Florida Department of Health rule 64DER21-15 being challenged address giving parents the final say in face mask opt-outs and in quarantining asymptomatic students who have been exposed to positive COVID-19 cases.

Six school boards in Florida are challenging the DOH rule which include Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Duval, Alachua and Leon counties.

The school boards argue that their job is to keep schools safe for all students and that the DOH rule is allowing parents to put other students at risk when they send students to school who have been exposed to COVID-19 and without face masks.

Oliva testified that while the schools in Florida followed CDC guidelines at the beginning of the pandemic, the FDOH now establishes best practices for school districts.

School districts in Florida are responsible for applying the DOH rule and the FDOE has a role in overseeing that school districts follow rules as well, Olivia said.

“Parents know their child the best and should make decisions,” he said.

Newman assigned attorneys representing the FDOH and the school districts to each write up a proposed order for his consideration by Oct. 29 and he will take those into consideration as he writes his final order with a Nov. 5 deadline.

“You’ve given me a lot to think about,” Newman said.

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