PUNTA GORDA, Fla.—Mere hours after a Florida district court judge ruled to allow schools to mandate face coverings, the state filed an emergency motion asking an appeals court to reinstate the stay on Wednesday night.
In the motion, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ team is asking that a hold be put on the Aug. 27 ruling by Circuit Judge John Cooper, whose ruling contends that the governor overreached his constitutional authority when he signed an executive order that prevented Florida school districts from requiring their students to wear masks.
On Wednesday morning, the judge lifted an automatic stay, which is typically provided to the government in such lawsuits, allowing schools to keep their mask politics in place without retribution from the Department of Education.
Cooper, in his Sept. 2 signed order (pdf), referred to a new state law known as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which gives parents the right to control health and educational decisions for their children. Cooper said state school board Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the Department of Education denied school districts their due process by improperly imposing financial penalties on districts that enact mask mandates.
During the four days that the order was not signed by the judge after his initial ruling on Aug. 27, the Florida Department of Education levied fines in the amount of the school board and superintendent’s salaries for Broward and Alachua counties. Corcoran also put Lee, Sarasota, and Miami-Dade counties on notice that they were under investigation for violating the governor’s order.
“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’s 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 wrote in his order.
The motion filed by the DeSantis team Wednesday evening contends that the governor could not have violated the law.
“According to its plain terms, the Parents’ Bill of Rights limits governmental authority and protects the inherent rights of parents,” the motion said. “Thus, the governor could not possibly have violated the Parents’ Bill of Rights by protecting parents’ rights. Most assuredly, the Parents’ Bill of Rights does not grant any authority to local school districts that did not previously exist.”
The motion also argues that the judge in his ruling over-stepped his bounds and violated constitutional separation of powers and examined policy and political issues about whether schools should be allowed to require masks.
“The adequate level of safety in schools and other public settings is a political question reserved entirely for elected representatives who are publicly accountable,” the state’s motion read. “Therefore, in finding irreparable harm (from a stay of his ruling), the trial court should not have substituted its own health policy preferences or risk assessments for those of the governor or, more importantly, the state health officer and the surgeon general.”
The case history goes back to Aug. 6 when a group of parents filed a lawsuit (pdf) in the Leon County Circuit Court against Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state board of education commissioner, and the state board of education citing that the governor’s executive order “impairs the safe operation of schools.” The complaint went on to say that the governor’s order took away “constitutional powers to operate, supervise and control schools” in their respective districts.
The appeals court gave the plaintiffs until 8 p.m. Thursday to file a response.