In Florida, Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper has denied a motion from Florida state authorities to dismiss a lawsuit challenging a recent executive order from Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis that sought to block mask mandates in schools. Thus, the case against DeSantis will proceed, and arguments are set for early next week. DeSantis has stuck by that executive order despite COVID-19 hospitalizations in his state at levels higher than any other point of the pandemic — although certain Florida school districts have opted to impose mask mandates anyway, without the option for parents to opt their children out of the policies of their own accord. (Exemptions tied to documented medical concerns are allowed.)
As Cooper put it, referring to the parents behind this lawsuit:
‘I do believe they have a right to challenge the governor… I’m not deciding whether they are right or wrong. We’ll have to see what the evidence shows.’
The judge added, contrary to assertions from the team on the governor’s side, that the “case should be tried and a record made.” DeSantis’s side had insisted that the parents responsible for this lawsuit did not have the appropriate legal standing to sue the governor in this context, since the issue concerns a dispute between DeSantis and local education officials, but Cooper disagreed, apparently finding that the case was serious and substantive enough to move forward. In the case, the “parents suing say the governor’s order endangers children with health issues,” a Florida Spectrum News outlet explains, since leaving significant numbers of people in school without masks could facilitate swift transmission of COVID-19.
President Joe Biden has also raised the specter of possible legal action against governors who, like DeSantis, have sought to block local education officials from putting common sense safety precautions in place. As Biden put it, his administration is “not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children.” Now, the Department of Education has “raised the possibility of using its civil rights arm to fight policies in Florida, Texas, Iowa and other Republican-led states that have barred public schools from requiring masks in the classroom,” the Associated Press explains. According to the Education Department, mandates against face masks in schools could constitute discrimination if certain students are thereby unable to safely attend school. As Education Secretary Miguel Cardona put it, the Education Department “has the authority to investigate any state educational agency whose policies or actions may infringe on the rights of every student to access public education equally.”