Mask mandate lawsuit faces pivotal ruling

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 4:39 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Attorneys representing parents suing the state over its school mask mandate ban have until 8:00 p.m. Thursday to submit their arguments to convince an appellate court not to allow the mandate ban to remain in effect as the case moves forward. The court’s decision will have lasting impacts, but there are plenty of other challenges to the mandate ban also in play.

In last year’s school reopening lawsuit, the First District Court of Appeal reinstating a stay was the moment things turned in the state’s favor.

“To this point, the cases have kind of mirrored the same process,” said Andrew Spar, President of the Florida Education Association, which led the school reopening lawsuit.

Spar said it’s difficult to predict if the appellate court will also stay the ruling in the mask mandate case.

“But again, you know you’re talking about an appellate court that is appointed by the Governor,” said Spar.

If the appeals court reinstates a stay on the ruling that blocked the mask mandate ban, it’s likely the ban will remain in place for the rest of the school semester.

“It’s not a matter of days or weeks, most likely it’s a matter of months,” said Charles Gallagher, an attorney representing parents who sued to overturn the mask mandate ban.

Gallagher is cautiously optimistic there won’t be a repeat of last year.

“This is going to be a length of time that is a window unguarded for kids to get COVID if there is a stay in place,” said Gallagher.

A ruling from the Appellate Court could come as early as Thursday evening. Last year, it took less than 24 hours for the stay to be reinstated.

Even if things don’t go in parents’ favor, school boards have filed their own challenge in administrative court, looking to strike down the Department of Health Rule requiring parental opt-outs.

“We’re really looking at it as one of the steps in our process,” said Alachua School Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon.

Alachua is one of four school districts that have filed the administrative challenge.

Simon said the battle over mask mandates is just beginning.

“This seems to be a new area for education law and my anticipation is that there’s much more to come,” said Simon.

There’s also a federal lawsuit arguing the mask mandate ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A Hearing was held Wednesday and an initial ruling is expected soon.