PUNTA GORDA, Fla.—A Florida judge in Leon County has cleared the way for parents to have their day in court over the tussle regarding school mask mandate policies.
A lawsuit was filed in early August by parents opposed to the governor’s order banning school districts from imposing mask mandates without the option for parents to opt out by written statement. The judge on Aug. 19 sided with parents and said they had a legal right to sue, overruling the state’s arguments.
The initial complaint made by St Petersburg attorney Charles Gallagher argued that the governor’s order “impairs the safe operation of schools.” In the complaint, he wrote that the governor’s order took away districts’ “constitutional powers to operate, supervise, and control schools” under their supervision.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attorney Michael Abel had moved to dismiss the case, but Judge John Cooper said that the case “deserved to be considered on its merits rather than dismiss it.” He said he wanted to hear the evidence in the case.
“This case needs to be heard and a record should be made,” Cooper said during the hearing. “I’m dealing with a good group of lawyers who will present evidence in this case—I look forward to hearing your arguments.”
The Leon County judge has set aside three days next week beginning Monday to decide whether to block the enforcement of the governor’s order as they hear technical evidence on both sides.
In a near three-hour meeting, the judge said, “I do believe they (the parents) have a right to challenge the governor—they have the right to have their case heard—I am not deciding whether they are right or wrong. We’ll have to see what the evidence shows.”
So far, five Florida county school districts are in non-compliance with the governor’s order by only allowing those children with medical exemptions to opt-out of mask wearing, without consideration for the protections for parental choice as laid out in the Parents Bill of Rights.
Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Hillsborough voted this week to join Broward and Alachua counties in ignoring the governor’s order. Three other counties will be revisiting the issue of mandatory masks with no option to opt out next week and may follow their counterparts on defying the rules being enforced by the Florida Departments of Health and Education.
The judge is giving three days for evidence to be presented beginning Monday at 9:30 a.m. ET and will make his ruling on Thursday.
“All I can do is promise you that I will do the best I can possibly do,” Cooper said as he ended the hearing.