Florida Judge Tosses Out Gov. DeSantis' Mask Mandate Ban

by Valerie Williams

A Florida judge smacks down Governor Ron DeSantis’ order banning mask mandates in schools

As the state of Florida struggles to contain the spread of COVID-19 (with the highly contagious delta variant making things even more dire), Governor Ron DeSantis seemingly did all he could to make the situation worse. That includes banning mask mandates in schools. At least 10 school districts, some in the state’s largest cities, defied the order and mandated masks in their buildings anyway. Now, a judge has thrown out DeSantis’ ban so schools across Florida are free to mandate masks.

NPR reports that Judge John Cooper ruled on a lawsuit brought by Florida parents who feel DeSantis’ ban was an overreach of his authority. DeSantis threatened “consequences” for districts that instituted a mask mandate in spite of his ban. Lawyers for the parents argue that the governor’s ban is in violation of a constitutional requirement that school districts operate schools that are safe. The state of Florida asserts that wearing masks in schools should be up to the parents.

In his ruling, Cooper cited the delta variant and the fact that it’s highly contagious and infecting children, even causing death. Cooper stressed the importance of both sides trying to work together to slow the spread. “We will not solve any issue if we can’t sit down and work together and take positions recognizing what’s going on is not some recent imposition or some attack on the country,” he says.

DeSantis has even gone as far as threatening to withhold the pay of school officials that tried mandating masks in their buildings. The governor’s spokesperson Christina Pushaw shared his statement regarding the threat earlier this month: “Ultimately — Education funding is for the students. The kids didn’t make the decision to encroach upon parents’ rights. So any financial penalties for breaking the rule would be targeted to those officials who made that decision.”

Luckily, some district officials felt that mandating masks to keep kids and teachers safe was worth the risk. Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna explains that he asked DeSantis’ office for flexibility when it comes to masks in his schools and was met with no response. So he went ahead and placed a temporary mandate anyway. “You can’t put a price tag on someone’s life, including my salary,” he said.

It’s particularly abhorrent that DeSantis, governor of the state that’s made news in recent weeks for leading the nation in child COVID hospitalizations, would take such drastic measures to all but ensure the virus is able to spread freely in schools. Thankfully, parents fought against the dangerous order and made sure Florida school districts would be able to enact mask mandates and keep kids as safe as possible while delta surges — and kids under 12 are still unable to be vaccinated.