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Cooper Tosses Automating Stay On Mask Ruling. School Districts Can Keep Their Policies, For Now.

a teal medical mask has been discarded on the road
Cladio Schwarz

Florida school districts with mandatory face mask policies can keep their policies for a while longer. A Leon County judge has lifted a stay on his ruling that initially blocked the state from punishing districts that defy Gov. Ron DeSantis' effort to block such policies. The move allows the districts to enforce their mask mandates while the state appeals.

Judge John Cooper, last month, agreed with plaintiffs who argued the state’s effort to ban such policies jeopardizes the health of all children. Cooper said the state didn’t prove how it would be harmed if the stay was lifted.

“There’s clear record evidence in the first district within the last year, to set aside a stay. It should not be a usual thing. It should not be a normal thing. But we’re not in normal times. We’re in a pandemic. We have children that cannot be protected by a vaccination," Cooper said.

The state argues the Parents Bill of Rights, a new law only about two months old, prevents districts from mandating face coverings, but the full reading of the law says government entities can impose certain policies if there’s a justifiable and reasonable reason for doing so.

In arguing for the judge to lift the stay, the plaintiff's attorney, Charles Gallagher, noted kids are at risk of harm if the stay is maintained—effectively invalidating district mask mandates.

“Vacating the stay will have no effect adverse to the rights of the defendant. However, maintaining the stay would amount to an unnecessary risk and result, sadly, in sick and dead children in our state," Gallagher said.

Cooper noted his original ruling doesn’t stop the state from punishing districts with mandatory mask policies. — but says the state has to follow the whole law and give those districts an opportunity to prove their mandates are reasonable and have a compelling state interest, according to the parents bill of rights. There are at least four other lawsuits over masking pending in federal, administrative and district courts.

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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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