Florida judge shoots down Republican governor’s ban on mask mandates in schools

A Florida judge has handed a victory to critics of Governor Ron DeSantis by ruling that the Republican’s controversial ban on mask mandates in schools was an overreach.

Leon Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled on Friday that the rights of parents to decide whether to mask their children is not enough to impose a blanket ban on mask mandates meant to curb Covid-19 cases. 

There can be medical opt-out options though, the judge said. The ban, however, doesn’t “pass constitutional muster” as school boards are within their right to mandate masks if it means protecting the health of the students as a whole. DeSantis had argued that parents should have the final say on whether their children need to mask up in schools or not.

Echoing numerous health officials, Cooper cited lagging vaccination numbers and the Delta variant as being behind an uptick in coronavirus cases in the state. The Delta variant specifically, he added, can be more transmittable among children, making masking a legitimate form of protection.

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“The Delta variant represents a higher risk to children than the previous form,” he said. “We had a less dangerous form of the virus last year. As the facts change on the ground, the need for different measures changes.”

On DeSantis, the judge argued that the governor’s emergency powers expired in June after Florida’s own state of emergency expired. 

The Board and Department of Education will now be barred from actually enforcing the governor’s ban, which has been met with multiple school officials openly and vocally defying it. 

Schools can now enact mask mandates if they have “compelling state interest” and a “narrowly tailored” plan. 

Other Republican governors, such as Texas’ Greg Abbott, have also enacted bans on mask mandates in schools, though they face similar legal challenges to DeSantis. 

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