Appeals court reinstates Florida ban on mask mandates in schools

Stay allows state to continue punishing school districts with mask mandates

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An appeals court in Tallahassee has granted Florida’s request to reinstate a ban on mask mandates for students, handing a temporary win to Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration.

A judge on Wednesday again ruled against DeSantis’ mask policy for students, setting aside a stay to his initial ruling and allowing school districts to enact mask mandates as the case moves forward on appeal.

Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled earlier this month that DeSantis did not have the authority to stop school districts from enforcing mask mandates. DeSantis appealed the ruling, which placed an automatic stay on the judge’s decision, allowing the state to continue to penalize school districts for requiring masks.

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On Wednesday, however, Cooper lifted the stay, meaning his original ruling stands. The DeSantis’ administration responded by filing an emergency motion asking an appeals court to reinstate a stay. The 41-page motion asked to put on hold a Sept. 2 ruling by Cooper.

On Friday, the District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee granted the state’s request giving the power over mask decisions back in the state and allowing the state to continue to punish districts in violation of DeSantis’ executive order. The state Department of Education has withheld school board salaries from at least two school districts.

The stay remains in place until an appellate court can review the case.

According to the ruling, when a public officer seeks an appellate review, there is a presumption that the stay should be vacated only for “the most compelling reasons.”

“Upon our review of the trial court’s final judgment and the operative pleadings, we have serious doubts about standing, jurisdiction, and other threshold matters,” the decision reads. “These doubts significantly militate against the likelihood of the appellees’ ultimate success in this appeal. Given the presumption against vacating the automatic stay, the stay should have been left in place pending appellate review.”

Wendy L. Doromal, president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, released a statement following the ruling: “OCCTA hopes that the School Board continues to enforce the universal mask mandate to provide the much-needed CDC-recommended protection to every student and employee. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to rage on, so this protection and other essential layered protections are necessary. The health and safety of our children should not be a political issue, especially when children under twelve are not even eligible for vaccines at this time.”

In response to the stay being reinstated, DeSantis tweeted the following:

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried issued a statement in response to the court granting the state’s request on the stay:

“There is no word in modern day English that gives meaning to the pain of a parent losing their child because that kind of grief is beyond words. I’m also at a loss for words hearing about this decision – I don’t understand why anyone would fight so hard against a policy that could save children’s lives and prevent that kind of unimaginable suffering. Children, parents, and teachers across the state are getting sick and dying from COVID-19, yet Governor DeSantis has banned schools from putting adequate protections in place to keep students and staff safe. The utter disregard for the well-being of Floridians demonstrated by the DeSantis administration’s COVID policies is unconscionable and I once again call on him to immediately rescind this Executive Order that was twice previously deemed unconstitutional.”

DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted in response on Friday after the decision, “1st District Court of Appeals just granted the State of Florida’s request to reinstate the stay -- meaning, the rule requiring ALL Florida school districts to protect parents’ rights to make choices about masking kids is BACK in effect!”