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Appeals court grants stay on ruling; parental opt-out now required for school masks

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

The First District Court of Appeals has granted the DeSantis administration’s motion for a stay on a trial court ruling that prohibited the Florida Departments of Education and Health from enforcing their emergency rules requiring that school districts allow parents to opt out of school mask mandates.

The case was brought by parents of disabled children, and they were initially successful at the trial court level in Leon County. An appeal from DeSantis led to an automatic stay of the ruling, the judge ruled against DeSantis again on Wednesday, and then DeSantis filed a motion with the First District Court of Appeals to grant a stay on the ruling. That stay was granted this morning.

The order granting the motion said that “When a public officer or agency seeks appellate review, which is the case here… the stay should be vacated only for the most compelling of reasons… Upon our review of the trial court’s final judgment and the operative pleadings, we have serious doubts about standing, jurisdiction, and other threshold matters. These doubts significantly militate against the likelihood of the appellees’ ultimate success in this appeal… Accordingly, we grant the appellants’ motion, quash the trial court’s order vacating the automatic stay, and reinstate the stay.”

Last year’s lawsuit from the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, arguing that the governor didn’t have the authority to force districts to provide in-person schooling, took a similar path, with a Leon County judge ruling against the governor, followed by an appeal and an automatic stay of the ruling. Judge Charles Dodson (who has retired and is now representing the plaintiffs in the current suit against the governor) lifted the automatic stay, and the 1st District Court of Appeals reversed the decision the next day. Schools opened in-person in every school district.

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Christina Pushaw, Governor DeSantis’ Press Secretary, tweeted a statement this morning: “BREAKING: 1st District Court of Appeals just granted the State of Florida’s request to reinstate the stay — meaning, the rule requiring ALL Florida school districts to protect parents’ rights to make choices about masking kids is BACK in effect!”

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon sent out the following statement:

“The decision is disappointing, but we understood from the beginning that the legal battle over masks in schools would take time and not every decision would be favorable.  

“While Alachua County Public Schools is not part of this particular lawsuit, we certainly support it. We are pleased that the plaintiffs plan to continue their fight. In the meantime, our legal challenges are just beginning, and we support the other Florida districts and families who are also taking the state to court over this issue.

“Despite the threat of continued sanctions, we will continue to enforce universal masking in our schools. Fortunately, we have a number of options for replacing funding taken by the state. Those options include the Project SAFE grant announced yesterday by the U.S. Education Department.

“Ultimately, we firmly believe we are acting legally and responsibly to protect our students and our communities from the spread of COVID. We will continue to exercise our constitutional obligation to maintain a safe environment for everyone in our schools.”

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