Debate over masks in Florida classrooms heads to court

Hearing on lawsuit against governor’s school mask ban starts Monday

LEON COUNTY, Fla. – New developments are expected this week involving two lawsuits that could impact students across the state as the debate over masks in the classroom returns to the courtroom.

Last week, a judge ruled the state lawsuit filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ school mask ban could move forward.

A three-day hearing in the case starts Monday. A ruling could come down later this week.

In this suit, parents claim the governor’s order keeps Florida from providing “safe and secure public schools.” The state claims the current rule prioritizes parents.

Judi Hayes, an Orange County attorney and mother of two students, is the lead plaintiff in the federal lawsuit against DeSantis’ mask ban.

She said she was happy to see the state lawsuit is moving forward.

“It kind of gave us a preview of what defenses the governor’s attorneys will be mounting. We anticipated that standing argument that literally no one has standing to challenge the governor’s executive order,” Hayes said.

Hayes, along with a group of parents and children with disabilities, filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month. They claim the governor’s mask ban and the education commissioner’s order, which prevents school districts from offering hybrid learning models, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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“We’re seeking to suspend the threat to penalize the districts that offer that,” Hayes said.

The Orange County school board is named as a defendant in the federal lawsuit. The school board scheduled an executive session on Monday to meet behind closed doors to talk about its litigation strategy.

The board discussed a universal mask mandate during an emergency meeting last week, but no action was taken.

Hayes said she is watching all of this play out closely and is hoping for a good outcome.

“We’re seeking this widespread declaratory relief that will inure to the benefit of every child in Florida and every kid in school in Florida, so if we win, then everybody wins,” she said.