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Judge Rules Against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Order: Ban on Mask Mandates in Schools ‘Does Not Meet Constitutional Muster’


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Holds Press Conference On State's Coronavirus Response

A judge blocked an executive order by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) that aimed to ban the state’s largest school districts from enforcing a mask mandate, a measure that the judge ruled violated the state’s Parents’ Bill of Rights and cut against the “overwhelming” medical consensus on COVID-19.

“Therefore, an executive order, or an agency action, or an executive action, which bans under all circumstances a face-mask mandate for schoolchildren, without approval often does not meet constitutional muster because such action exceeds the authority given to the defendant,” Leon County Judge John Cooper of the Second Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.

The bench ruling, delivered during a Zoom hearing on Friday, follows a three-day trial in Leon County.

“I have heard significant evidence concerning the medical and scientific basis for face-mask policies and I conclude that this evidence demonstrates that face mask policies that follow CDC guidance are at this point in time, reasonable and consistent with the best scientific and medical opinion and guidance in the country,” Judge Cooper added.

Earlier this month, a Texas judge blocked a similar decree by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), in a ruling allowing the Lone Star State’s largest county and several school districts to resume enforcing mask mandates.

Texas and Florida continue to suffer from rising COVID-19 infections during the spread of the delta variant, as both states surpassed New York in coronavirus deaths in August. Both are run by pro-Trump Republicans who repeatedly resisted or sought to override measures by local authorities designed to control the pandemic.

According to the Associated Press, the school districts defying DeSantis’s order represent slightly more than half of the 2.8 million Florida public school students enrolled this year.

“My ruling in this case if you want to put it in one sentence is: I’m enforcing the bill passed by the legislature in requiring that anyone who uses that Bill has to follow all provisions, not part of the provisions,” Cooper said, referring to the Parents’ Bill of Rights.

For the judge, the separation of powers issues by the governor’s orders were multifaceted.

“The doctrine of separation of powers requires that the discretionary power exercised by the school board, cannot be interfered by the judiciary, or by the executive branch of government, and neither the judiciary nor the executive can substitute their judgment for the school board’s power,” he said.

Judge Cooper said that his ruling will go into effect once he releases a written order.

The governor’s spokeswoman Taryn Fenske announced that DeSantis would appeal the ruling.

“It’s not surprising that Judge Cooper would rule against parent’s rights and their ability to make the best educational and medical decisions for their family, but instead rule in favor of elected politicians,” Fenske told Law&Crime in an email. “This ruling was made with incoherent justifications, namely that the Governor somehow violated the Parents’ Bill of Rights by giving parents more choices instead of handing power to local school boards.”

The parents’ lawyer Craig A. Whisenhunt predicted an appeal would be imminent, though he said he was “obviously pleased” by the ruling.

“This case wasn’t about masks but about the unlawful overreach of the Governor into the decisions of local school boards to ensure the safety of students, staff, and their families,” Whisenhunt told Law&Crime in an email. “The ruling ensures that those districts that reasonably believe masks to be necessary can mandate them with or without parent opt out provisions based upon the local circumstances. This was a huge win for our schools, our children, and the law.”

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."