Districts keep mask mandates, even with ban back in force

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 3:21 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - The state’s school mask mandate ban is back in effect and it’s unlikely to change before the end of the school semester. Parents are pushing for a quick resolution in the courts and school districts requiring masks say they aren’t backing down.

With the original ruling, blocking the mask mandate ban, back on hold the Florida Department of Education is free to continue withholding school board salaries in districts bucking the state.

“Universally they were all very disappointed with the ruling,” said Charles Gallagher, an attorney representing parents who are suing the state.

But Gallagher said the parents haven’t given up hope. They’ve requested the case be heard by the Florida Supreme Court.

“We’ll probably hear back I’m sure from that in a number of days,” said Gallagher.

The Governor’s Office, however, remains confident the state will ultimately prevail in the courts.

“We remain confident that we are right on the law, and the Department of Education will continue to enforce against violations of the rule now that the injunction has been stayed by the appellate court,” said DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw in an emailed statement.

Even with the mandate ban back in place, school districts with mandates have said they’re not changing their policies.

“We’re going to continue to manage our school system the way we have since the beginning of the school year,” said Dr. Carlee Simon, Superintendent of Alachua County Schools.

Dr. Simon said thanks to a new grant from the federal government, districts will be able to supplement any funding withheld by the state.

“Those of us who have been penalized financially have a direct route to have that money replenished,” said Dr. Simon.

The state is fighting a multi-front battle between administrative challenges, multiple lawsuits, and now a civil rights inquiry by the US Department of Education investigating whether the mandate ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This is probably a misuse of taxpayer funding to have this many battles going on, considering we have many people who are in support of the mask mandate.”

But the Governor’s Office told us it’s committed to continuing the fight.

“Governor DeSantis will continue to stand up for parents’ rights to make health and educational decisions for their own children, including the choice to wear a mask to school or not,” said Pushaw.

And while the school mask mandate debate continues to play out in the courts, COVID cases have steadily declined over the past three weeks. Although positivity rates among Floridians between the ages of 12 and 19 remain the highest of any age group.