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Lawsuit Aims To Settle Mask Rules

Alliance for Excellent Education
A group of elementary students wait to have their temperatures checked before entering school in October 2020.

In Tallahassee, a circuit judge began hearing arguments Monday in a high-profile lawsuit about whether Florida’s public school districts should be able to set student mask requirements.

In the middle of a COVID-19 surge that’s refilling hospital beds and ICUs, attorneys for a group of parents began calling witnesses whose arguments were geared primarily toward proving the delta variant is more potent than previous strains.

The parents are challenging a July 30 executive order by Governor Ron DeSantis that seeks to block county school boards from requiring students to wear masks. Amy Nell, a Tampa parent of two children under age 12, was the first parent called by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“We don’t want our kids to get sick,” said Nell. “Losing a kid is a parent’s worst nightmare. While I understand the risk of that is relatively low, there are a lot of things we don’t know about other long-term symptoms.”

In recent weeks, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the State Board of Education have pressured school districts to follow a state Department of Health rule that says parents must be allowed to opt out of student mask requirements.

Michael Abel is an attorney representing the state.

“When it comes to masking in schools, this is hardly a settled issue. There is an ongoing debate over whether masks are more harmful than beneficial to children, or in school environments in general,” Abel said.

While the face covering debate at school plays out in court, some districts have rebelled against the state and mandated masks, with exceptions only for students with doctors’ notes.

Sarasota and Leon counties during the past few days joined Alachua, Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Hillsborough school districts in enacting such mask requirements.