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A Miami federal judge has sided with Florida GOP Governor Ron DeSantis and ruled against parents of students with disabilities in a lawsuit over public school mask mandates.
“Twelve parents from eight different Florida school districts whose children have special needs sued the governor and the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) over an executive order (pdf) that allows parents to opt-out of student face coverings. The eight school boards of Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, Pasco, Miami-Dade, and Volusia were also named in the suit for implementing the governor’s order. The federal suit argued that their children were at elevated risk of becoming ill or dying from COVID-19 if other children came to school without facial coverings,” The Epoch Times reported.
“In Judge K. Michael Moore’s decision, he denied the parents’ request for a preliminary injunction against an executive order that DeSantis issued in July, which was the catalyst for the Florida Department of Health to issue a rule (pdf) requiring school districts to allow parents to opt-out of any student mask mandates. So far, 13 school districts have defied the governor’s order. Two counties, Broward and Alachua, have been fined for non-compliance, while others are under investigation by FDOE,” the report added.
Moore ruled that the parents did not exercise all “remedies” at their respective schools to accommodate their children’s needs before filing the lawsuit.
Last week, DeSantis, who has been an adamant opponent of Joe Biden, scored another court victory against Democrats.
Florida’s 1st District Court reinstated a stay on mask mandates in schools that DeSantis had instituted, blocking local school requirements, CNN reported.
The order stops a lower court’s temporary freeze on the governor’s ban on mask mandates in schools.
“When a public officer or agency seeks appellate review, which is the case here, there is a presumption under the rule in favor of a stay, and the stay should be vacated only for the most compelling of reasons,” the order said.
“Given the presumption against vacating the automatic stay, the stay should have been left in place pending appellate review,” it said.
The latest court ruling comes amid a showdown between the state and some local school districts that have insisted on requiring students to wear masks as Covid-19 infections surge.
The civil rights enforcement arm of the US Department of Education added to the issue Friday, saying it is opening an investigation into whether the Florida education department “may be preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the needs of students with disabilities” with the mask mandate ban.
The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) sent a letter to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran Friday, detailing how “OCR is concerned that Florida’s policy requiring public schools and school districts to allow parents to opt their children out of mask mandates may be preventing schools in Florida from meeting their legal obligations not to discriminate based on disability and from providing an equal educational opportunity to students with disabilities who are at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”
The federal department last month said it had sent letters to state school officials in five states — Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah — notifying them of investigations into whether their state mask restrictions prevented students with disabilities from “safely returning to in-person education, in violation of Federal law.”
“No surprise here – the 1st DCA has restored the right of parents to make the best decisions for their children. I will continue to fight for parents’ rights,” the governor said on Twitter, celebrating his victory.
No surprise here – the 1st DCA has restored the right of parents to make the best decisions for their children.
I will continue to fight for parents’ rights.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) September 10, 2021
Some school districts did not agree with the decision and vowed to continue the fight.