SBAC: Petitioners lack standing to stop mask mandate

The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) argues that petitioners demanding an end to the face mask rule in Alachua Public schools have no standing to make such a demand.

The filing comes in response to an Oct. 4 petition on behalf parents on Alachua and Duval counties.

“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,” the petition said. 

The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee gave school district attorneys a Friday deadline to respond. The SBAC did so, arguing that the petition was filed in the wrong court and the petitioners have not been properly identified to prove they have standing in their claims.

“Petitioners are seeking relief against the Alachua County Public Schools, in Alachua County, Florida – within the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Florida, and their relief sought is requesting that the Court order the School Board of Alachua County to change its current policies,” the response states. “As a result, there is no reason that Petitioners could not seek the requested writ of mandamus in circuit court in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, rather than trying to bypass the circuit court and come directly to the District Court of Appeal.”

The 11-page response from the SBAC also states that petitioners are seeking relief without establishing residency or any pertinent information that ties them to the Alachua County schools.

“Petitioners must allege that they suffered special injury, without which their petition must fail,” the response states. “Here, Petitioners have failed to make any allegations to establish standing There is no allegation that the Petitioners are residents in any county within the jurisdiction of the First District, have been affected by the Florida Department of Health Emergency Rule 64DER21-15.”

The SBAC and Simon maintain they are following the law by adhering to guidance by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which continues to recommend that students wear facial coverings to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“Due to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status,” according to the CDC website.

The response to the petition comes two days after State Board of Education (SBOE) gave eight Florida school districts a deadline to establish compliance with the emergency rule giving parents the authority to opt their children out of wearing face coverings and out of quarantining after exposure to COVID-19 if the student is asymptomatic.

The SBAC faces more financial penalties at the recommendation of Florida Department of Education Commissioners Richard Corcoran. Those sanctions include withholding school board member salaries and if those sanctions are reimbursed by the federal government, the sanctions would withhold any reimbursement funds as well.

The SBOE voted unanimously to move forward with those sanctions after hearing from the superintendents in charge of school districts in Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach.

According to the SBAC COVID-19 dashboard, positive cases for students and staff are at a low since the surge in late August. In the last 14 days, just four cases have been reported among staff, and out of 37 schools and learning centers, 13 have reported zero cases in the past two weeks and schools with cases have a range of one to six at the most over a 14-day period.

Last week the SBAC voted to loosen mask rules for high schoolers, but it maintained the mandatory mask policy for middle and elementary school students. 

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