Governor Ron DeSantis won a temporary victory in his continuing battle against preventing Covid-19. Florida’s 1st District Court ordered that the governor’s ban on mask mandates in the state’s schools remain in place while a court case opposing the ban makes its way through the appeals process.
The panel of judges wrote that they had “serious doubts about standing, jurisdiction, and other threshold matters” regarding the parents of Florida school children who brought the case against DeSantis. Those potential issues, the judges said, “significantly militate against the likelihood of the [parents’] ultimate success in this appeal.” Because of that, the panel decided to quash a circuit judge’s decision to vacate an automatic stay, keeping the ban in place.
The appeals court’s ruling came on Friday after Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper on Wednesday overturned the governor’s statewide ban on school mask requirements. Cooper ruled that districts could indeed attempt to protect students and their households by mandating masks. But late Wednesday night, DeSantis filed an emergency motion to reinstate the stay.
DeSantis issued a statement on Twitter in response to the appeals court’s decision. “No surprise here — the 1st DCA has restored the right of parents to make the best decisions for their children,” he said. “I will continue to fight for parents’ rights.”
DeSantis, a pioneer of pro-Covid policies, banned school mask requirements via executive order back in August. So far, 13 school districts in the state have implemented mask requirements in defiance of DeSantis’s order, only allowing parents to opt their children out for approved medical reasons.
Cooper’s ruling this week followed a decision he issued on September 2nd that found DeSantis acted outside his constitutional authority when he banned mask mandates in Florida schools. DeSantis justified his actions by claiming he was acting under authority granted by the Parents’ Bill of Rights, a controversial piece of legislation Florida passed in 2021 that gives parents control over certain aspects of their children’s education, upbringing, and health care.
But Cooper said that even the Parents’ Bill of Rights provides exemptions for narrow government actions that protect public health, such as masking. And this week, he reiterated the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“We are not in normal times. We are in a pandemic,” the judge said Wednesday, according to NBC Miami. Cooper also noted that some children are too young to be “protected by vaccination,” as the Food and Drug Administration has only approved the vaccine for people age 12 and up.
“Children are at risk and they provide at least some protection by masking,” Cooper said, adding that, despite DeSantis’s claims that masks are harmful, the “greater weight of the evidence did not support the claim that mandatory face masks… would create any meaningful harm to those wearing it.”
In DeSantis’s emergency motion, his attorneys argued that by issuing a ruling about masking in schools, Cooper violated the state’s separation of powers and “ignore[d] long-standing constitutional and statutory authority vested in the governor, the Board of Education, and the Department of Health.”
An attorney for the parents stated in court, according to NBC Miami, that if the appeals court sided with DeSantis, it “would mean more sick and dead children,” whereas siding with the parents “would save lives.”
According to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics, as of September 2nd, children represent more than 15 percent of all Covid cases. That amounts to more than 5 million children infected with Covid since states started reporting data. And since kids started returning to school in late August, more than 450,000 cases have been detected in children, a 10 percent increase in the cumulated number of child Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
The CDC reports a 7-day average of 13,386 Floridians hospitalized with Covid, a total that, by any sane metric, constitutes an actual public health emergency.