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Florida school districts take their mask fight back to administrative court after the state health department rewrites its rules

a teal medical mask has been discarded on the road

Several Florida school districts are again challenging a Department of Health rule that bans mandatory mask policies. The rule is an outgrowth of an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The first lawsuit was dismissed after the Department revised the rule, a move Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna believes was an acknowledgment the state could have lost the challenge.

"In my mind, they basically said 'look, you won. We realize we weren't going to win' and they basically got a do-over."

The Department of Health’s new rule on masks makes clear that parents, not districts, have the sole authority to decide whether their children should wear face coverings. But the district's argument remains the same.

“They [The department of health] can talk about stopping the spread of the virus and health-related things, but wearing masks and not wearing masks and the parental bill of rights, is out of their purview. We believe they’ve overstepped their bounds in that part of the rule. Then, number two, we believe, if you read the Parental Bill of Rights, we’ve acted within it.”

The Parents Bill of Rights law grants parents sole decision-making on healthcare decisions unless there is a compelling state interest. The districts point to the coronavirus pandemic as that state interest.

Leon, Miami-Dade, Alachua, Orange, Broward and Duval County Schools have signed on to the new challenge.

There are now several lawsuits pending in state and federal court. The State Board of Education is poised to issue more financial fines on school districts, and the federal government has jumped in the fray—offering to backfill any money the districts may lose. The state is trying to block that.

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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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