State files emergency appeal to reinstate mask ban

The Florida school district mask mandate war continues as lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday filed an emergency appeal to stop the vacated stay a circuit court issued Wednesday.

State lawyers filed the appeal with the First District Court of Appeals to block school districts from requiring masks while the case goes through the court system.

In the state’s filing lawyers argued they “have a high likelihood of success on appeal. Therefore, the trial court abused its discretion in vacating the automatic stay, and this Court should reinstate the stay pending review.”

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On Aug. 27, Circuit Court Judge John Cooper issued a verbal ruling to block enforcement of the state’s ban on mask mandates. Last week, immediately following the judge’s written decision, the state filed an appeal, triggering an automatic stay of his ruling.

On Wednesday, Cooper granted a motion to vacate the stay, allowing school board mask mandates to remain in effect and preventing the state from punishing school districts for doing so.

In a two-hour hearing on Tuesday, Cooper heard final arguments from attorneys representing the state and attorneys representing a group of parents from Alachua, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Palm Beach counties.

“This is not a complicated case,” Cooper said, as he delivered his ruling and referred to the Florida Parents’ Bill of Rights. “It’s a law passed by the Legislature, it says what I said it said or it doesn’t.”

Cooper said the state only argued part of the bill of rights gives parents the right to make medical decisions for their children.

Cooper maintained the law also allows for school boards or other government agencies to adopt policies related to health that may affect parents rights over their children.

“It is undisputed that we are in midst of a pandemic,” Cooper said, noting the delta variant is more infectious than previous variants.

“There is only one or two means to protect them,” Cooper said. “Stay at home or wear a mask.”

Last week the Florida Department of Education began garnishing the wages of school board members who voted to implement mask mandates.

On Thursday the U.S. Department of Education announced a grant program for school districts punished for implementing COVID-19 safety measures.

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon applauded the move.

“We will certainly apply for Project SAFE funds as soon as we receive the Notice Inviting Applications,” Simon said in a written statement. “I’m particularly pleased that the grant awards will be made directly to school districts, because it means we will not have to rely on the state to serve as a go-between.”

DeSantis has dismissed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that people wear masks, contending that masks are less essential for young people and carry some risks of their own for children.

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