BY JENNIFER CABRERA
Today Circuit Judge Peter K. Sieg granted a Writ of Mandamus to Alachua County parents who asked the court to require Alachua County Public Schools to follow Florida Department of Health (FDOH) emergency rules for COVID-19 policies in schools.
The Emergency Petition for Writ of Mandamus was filed with the First District Court of Appeal on October 1, 2021. It was transferred back to circuit court for an “immediate hearing” on October 29, and the hearing was held on November 17. The school board’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss on November 12, alleging that the petition was moot because the school board voted to come into compliance with the FDOH emergency rules.
Today the judge issued an Order Granting Petition for Writ of Mandamus (read it here), writing that the school board’s “sole remaining argument” was that they voted on November 10 to comply with the FDOH rules. However, the judge wrote that the Alachua County School Board (ACSB) permanent policy 8450.01, which allows the superintendent to order the mandatory use of protective facial coverings during pandemic/epidemic events, did not comply with the emergency rules that require parental opt-out of mask and quarantine policies.
Judge Sieg wrote that although ACSB is currently in compliance with the law, the mootness doctrine does not apply because the issue could arise again. The Writ orders the school board to “immediately adopt a written policy in compliance with Florida law… to be maintained indefinitely for all public schools under the control of the Alachua County School Board.”
Jeff Childers, the attorney for the parents who brought the lawsuit, sent out the following statement: “This order brings to a rest a sad chapter in the history book of the Alachua County school system. It teaches the School Board that it should ask some hard questions of all the people who gave it such terrible advice to pursue its reckless policy, including its superintendent and board attorney.
“Obviously, my parent clients feel vindicated and relieved that four courts have given ACSB’s legal arguments an ‘F.’ My clients are puzzled why the lesson was so hard for the district to learn. But some students must learn the hard way. The voters can ask why the school board got so many questions wrong in the next election cycle. We look forward to seeing the district stop denying science and refusing to comply with the court’s mandates, in order to avoid a judgment of contempt.”