Parents file petition against SBAC mask policy

Parents from Duval and Alachua counties have filed a petition asking the First District Court of Appeal to order the school boards to follow the law established in the most recent emergency rule issued by the Florida surgeon general.

“If school boards can simply make up their own rules, hire their own public policy and medical advisors, and ignore State data and guidance, then the entire constitutional system of government of the State of Florida becomes irrelevant,” Gainesville attorney Jeff Childers wrote on behalf of 22 named petitioners. “The School Boards have created their own, independent departments of health, competitive and—in their view—superior to the constitutional Department of Health. This is a dangerous precedent, if permitted to stand.”

Currently, the Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) COVID-19 protocols continue to mirror Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, which differs from the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) emergency rule Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo issued on Sept. 22.

“All students are required to wear a mask correctly and consistently for the first ten weeks of school,” the ACPS policy states, noting it is effective until Oct. 19. “Students with a documented health, sensory, or developmental reason that prevents them from wearing a mask can request an exemption.”

Federal and state courts have recently dealt setbacks to parents challenging the state ban on universal mask mandates in schools. Last month the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) filed its own challenge against the original emergency health rule, but a judge dismissed it after Ladapo released the new rule.

On Monday ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson said she did not have information on whether the district would file a new challenge. 

In the latest petition on behalf of parents, Childers said it’s time for ACPS to comply.

“This Court should grant this petition and issue a writ of mandamus directing the SBAC, the SBDC, Superintendent [Carlee] Simon, and Superintendent [Diana] Greene to immediately comply with the Emergency Rule, provide parents with an opt-out to the mask policy at their sole discretion, and permit healthy (non symptomatic) children to attend school exempt from quarantine at the parents’ discretion.”

On Monday, ACPS implemented a new policy on contract tracing and quarantining of exposed students, which moved it closer to the FDOH emergency rule requirements.

The petition was delivered as COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Pfizer nears a goal of making the vaccine available for children under 12 years old, the last group to become eligible. 

According to a Sept. 20 press release from COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Pfizer, results from “Phase 2” out of three phases show promise that a smaller vaccine dosage is “showing a favorable safety profile and robust neutralizing antibody responses in children 5 to 11 years of age using a two-dose regimen…administered 21 days apart.”

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