TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — A Florida Circuit Court judge has overturned Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mask mandate ban for Florida schools, ruling the governor overstepped his authority by issuing an executive order banning the mandates.
Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper on Friday agreed with a group of parents who claimed in a lawsuit that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on the mandates is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.
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Cooper said DeSantis’ order “is without legal authority.”
The governor’s order gave parents the sole right to decide if their child wears a mask at school. Cooper’s decision came after a three-day virtual hearing and as at least 10 Florida school boards, including Miami-Dade and Broward counties, voted to defy DeSantis and impose mask requirements with no parental opt-out.
Cooper said that while the governor and others have argued that a new Florida law gives parents the ultimate authority to oversee health issues for their children, it also exempts government actions that are needed to protect public health and are reasonable and limited in scope. He said a school district’s decision to require student masking to prevent the spread of the virus falls within that exemption.
The judge also noted that two Florida Supreme Court decisions from 1914 and 1939 found that individual rights are limited by their impact on the rights of others. For example, he said, adults have the right to drink alcohol but not to drive drunk. There is a right to free speech, but not to harass or threaten others or yell “fire” in a crowded theater, he said.
“We don’t have that right because exercising the right in that way is harmful or potentially harmful to other people,” Cooper said. He added that the law “is full of examples of rights that are limited (when) the good of others … would be adversely affected by those rights.”
DeSantis has dismissed the masking recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as not applicable to Florida, but Cooper cited numerous Florida laws and statutes covering health care in nursing homes, prisons and elsewhere that say state decision-makers should give great weight to CDC guidelines.
Counties with such mask requirements now represent about half of Florida’s 2.8 million students.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running to be the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, applauded the decision.
“Today, Florida’s judicial branch affirmed what we have known to be true: Governor DeSantis’ ban on masks in schools is not only a dangerous government overreach that puts children’s lives at risk, but it also violates Florida law. This ruling is a win for common sense, for children’s safety, and for all the families and school officials who have been fighting to protect their loved ones, students, and staff,” said her statement. “Governor, it’s past time to walk away from this ridiculous, politically motivated fight and focus instead on working together to protect the people of Florida by encouraging scientifically-proven vaccines and mask guidelines. I’m proud to continue to stand with the brave local officials and families who have been fighting for what the court today affirmed is right.”
The governor said he will appeal.
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