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Ruling on state’s school masking and quarantine policies expected November 5th

Published: Oct. 22, 2021 at 9:40 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - The state and six school districts called their final witnesses Friday in an administrative hearing over the state’s school COVID policies.

The judge now must decide whether the Department of Health overstepped its bounds when creating its emergency rules on mask mandates and student quarantine protocols. Only two witnesses were heard from on the final day of the trial.

The first, infectious disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty, argued masks in schools work.

“There’s no if’s, and’s or but’s about it,” said Dr. Marty.

She also said parents shouldn’t have the final say on whether their child is safe to return to the classroom after being exposed to COVID.

“Even I would not know if my child was asymptomatic,” said Dr. Marty.

The Department of Health emergency rule allows parents to send their child back to school after an exposure, as long as they have no symptoms.

“Parents know their child the best and ultimately they should be the decision makers,” said Jacob Oliva, Chancellor of Florida’s Division of K12 Public Schools.

Oliva testified the DOH rule came as a response to districts that had expressed concerns that quarantines were getting out of hand.

“They’re really concerned about the amount of learning loss,” said Oliva.

Both sides agreed to forgo closing arguments. The judge said to expect a ruling by November 5th.

After the hearing, the school districts’ attorney Jamie Cole told us the biggest problem with the DOH rule is that it was premised on a COVID emergency, as cases were already trending downward.

“Based on that rationale, they could just keep doing emergency rules from March 1st, 2020 till the end of COVID,” said Cole.

Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna told us this case is likely to set an important precedent on the authority of local school districts going forward.

“At the end of the day it comes down to state control versus local control and we’ll see what the judge has to say,” said Hanna.

Either side is likely to appeal if the judge’s decision doesn’t go their way.

Even if the DOH rule is struck down, this debate is likely far from over.

In his call for a special session, Governor Ron DeSantis asked lawmakers to codify the rights of parents to make masking decisions for their children more clearly in state law.