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Florida judge blocks DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in schools

Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Florida judge ruled Friday that school districts in the state can require students to wear masks. The ruling overturns the executive order that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed to ban mask mandates.

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by parents who railed against DeSantis' ban on schools forcing mandatory masks. The order signed by the Republican governor on July 30 gave parents the final decision to determine whether they want their children to wear face masks at school or not.

After a three-day virtual hearing, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled that DeSantis' order "is without legal authority" and is by definition "arbitrary" and "capricious."

"I conclude that this evidence demonstrates that facemask policies that follow CDC guidance are, at this point in time, reasonable and consistent with the best scientific and medical and public opinion guidance at this time," Cooper said, according to WJXT. "I am enforcing the bill passed by the Legislature and requiring that anyone who uses that bill has to follow all of the provisions, not some of the provisions."

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention currently "recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status."

"The actions of the defendants (DeSantis) do not pass constitutional muster," Cooper said. "They seek to deprive the school boards in advance."

The Tallahassee judge cited two Florida Supreme Court decisions from 1914 and 1939 that ruled that individual rights are limited by their impact on the rights of others, CBS News reported. Cooper used examples stating that adults have the right to drink alcohol, but are prohibited from driving while intoxicated. Another example given is people have a right to free speech, but are not allowed to threaten others.

"We don't have that right because exercising the right in that way is harmful or potentially harmful to other people," Cooper said, adding that the law "is full of examples of rights that are limited (when) the good of others ... would be adversely affected by those rights."

During a news conference on Thursday, DeSantis said if the ban on mask mandates were overruled that he would appeal the decision.

"If we win in ... trial court I'm sure it'll be appealed on the other side, too. And so that's good, I mean, I think you know, we obviously need to have this stuff crystallize," DeSantis said, according to WKMG-TV. "We feel that the legislature really made a big statement with their parental Bill of Rights and that's an important piece of legislation."

DeSantis believes that parents in favor of being given a choice of masking their children or not will file a separate lawsuit opposing school mask mandates.

"I know there's parents who had their rights taken away, who are going to pursue legal action. I think you will see that in some areas," DeSantis added.

At least 10 county school boards have voted to defy DeSantis and institute mask mandates in Florida classrooms regardless of parental consent, including the two largest school districts in the state.

Earlier this month, Florida's Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent letters to the superintendents and school board chairs of districts in Alachua, Leon, and Broward counties threatening to withhold their funding.

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