Parents of students with disabilities sue Florida governor over mask mandate ban

Lawsuit says DeSantis is violating Americans with Disabilities Act

DeSantis' ban on face mask mandates at schools is an overreach of authority, experts say
DeSantis' ban on face mask mandates at schools is an overreach of authority, experts say

A group of parents and their children with disabilities filed suit against the state of Florida Friday claiming Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates in schools violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Two Central Florida families are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including students who attend Volusia County and Orange County schools.

The federal lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Florida includes 27 parents and children who claim DeSantis “does not have the authority to threaten school districts with loss of funding if they protect their students with disabilities health and rights to be in an integrated learning environment.”

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DeSantis had ordered the state education department to come up with ways to pressure school districts against creating mask mandates and punish them if they do. He said the rules could include withholding money from school districts or other actions allowed under Florida law.

Last week, DeSantis signed an executive order banning mask mandates in Florida schools, leaving the decision up to parents whether their children wear masks in school. This comes as Florida is reporting record hospitalizations and COVID-19 infections.

The children in the lawsuit all have individualized education plans due to their medical conditions and are at higher risk of severe cases of COVID-19, according to attorneys for the families.

“By refusing to allow school districts to implement mask mandates, Governor DeSantis has placed an illegal barrier for students with disabilities which is preventing our state’s most vulnerable students from returning to public schools,” the lawsuit states, adding it essentially forces the children out of the public school system.

On Friday, the Florida Board of Education approved the use of private school vouchers for children who choose not to wear a mask in school.

The lawsuit states that the defendants “have argued publicly that students can attend virtual programs or be given a voucher to attend a private school.”

The lawyers for the plaintiffs argue neither option is comparable to what the public school setting offers.

“Virtual programs do not provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education and there are no virtual programs available to those students on a modified curriculum,” the lawsuit reads.

It later adds, “Vouchers are also not a viable alternative. When a parent accepts a voucher, they waive their right to a free appropriate public education. Parents must also have the financial means to transport their child to a private school and pay the extra expenses that the voucher does not cover. Also, the parent must find a private school willing to accept their child with their disabilities. Just having a voucher does not guarantee that the family will be able to find a private school willing to accept the voucher and that student.”

In addition to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the lawsuit also claims violations of the Rehabilitation Act and the Florida Educational Equity Act.

“Parents are put into an impossible situation of having to choose between the health and life of their child and returning the school,” the lawsuit states.

The lawyers representing the parents and children are Stephanie Langer and Matthew Dietz, both of whom work for the Disability Independence Group.

The Disability Independence Group works toward “expanding opportunities for participation, education, employment, and acceptance of persons with disabilities through advocacy, litigation, education, and training,” according to its website.

Read the lawsuit below:


About the Authors:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.