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A Judge Tosses A Mask Lawsuit Filed By Florida School Districts After The Department Of Health Rewrites The Rules

Eva in Mask
Patricia Moynihan
WFSU Public Media
The Leon County school board and Superintendent Rocky Hanna have joined four other districts in challenging the state's ban on school mask mandates during the pandemic.

The Florida Department of Health’s rule change has short-circuited a lawsuit filed by several school districts over COVID-19 mitigation protocols. The districts sued the department over language in the rule giving parents the ability to opt their children out of mask wearing.

Florida’s new surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, is critical of school quarantines and raised concerns about them Tuesday during an introductory press conference with reporters.

“Just a perfect example of how glaringly we’ve ignored what public health really means, is how we’ve just brazenly pulled children who need the structure of school…out of school. And we’ve done that…for kids with disabilities,” he said.

A day later, the Department of Health issued an update to its school mask rule citing a need to “minimize the amount of time students are removed from in-person learning.”

The new version of the rule states parents have sole discretion over mask wearing. The rule also says students do not have to quarantine if they’ve tested positive for the coronavirus and have no symptoms.

During a phone hearing Wednesday, an administrative law judge dismissed the case filed by the districts, including Leon. The districts argued there was nothing in the original rule preventing them from requiring a medical reason to opt out of masking. More than a dozen school districts have medical opt out policies and are in conflict with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to get rid of mandatory mask policies in schools.

DeSantis, speaking during Ladapo’s introduction, reiterated his position that students should be kept in school as much as possible.

“Keep these kids in school. If they’re sick, send them home, but healthy kids--they have a right to be in a classroom," the governor said.

Several districts have reported significant numbers of students sent home to quarantine because of potential exposure to the virus—even though they may not be sick or symptomatic.

There are several other lawsuits still pending in state, federal and administrative law courts.

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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