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Florida Court Lifts Pause on Mask Mandate Ban, Ruling in Favor of DeSantis

Students wearing protective masks arrive for classes on the first day of school in Miami-Dade County amid the coronavirus pandemic at Barbara Goleman Senior High School in Miami, Fla., August 23, 2021. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

The First District Court of Appeals in Florida ended the pause on the state’s school mask mandate ban in a decision on Friday. The measure is temporarily back in effect, and it is once again unlawful for Florida public schools to require students to wear masks in their facilities.

In the ruling, the court granted the State of Florida’s request to reinstate the stay lifted by Judge John Cooper’s Wednesday decision, which briefly permitted public schools to reimpose mask mandates, rejecting Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s previous appeal.

The prohibition on mask mandates in Florida is likely to remain in place for the remainder of the fall school semester until the appellate court can issue a final ruling on the case.

“Given the presumption against vacating the automatic stay, the stay should have been left in place pending appellate review. Accordingly, we grant the appellants’ motion, quash the trial court’s order vacating the automatic stay, and reinstate the stay required by Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.310(b)(2),” the order reads.

The case went to the First District after Cooper removed the stay preventing schools from mandating masks, arguing that the state of Florida would not incur harm as a result of the judicial action.

Noting that aside from isolation at home, masks are the only protection mechanism for children against the highly infectious delta variant, Cooper asserted on Wednesday that “it’s undisputed that in Florida we are in the midst of a COVID pandemic. Based on the evidence I’ve heard, there’s no harm to the state if the stay is set aside.”

Prior to the Wednesday ruling, Cooper made a preliminary decision in which he said   DeSantis overstepped his authority in banning public institutions from implementing mask mandates. His original opinion stated that Florida law “does not support a statewide order, or any action interfering with the constitutionally provided authority of local school districts to provide for the safety and health of children, based on the unique facts on the ground in a particular county.”

The chain of legal battles between the state and the Florida courts was triggered when DeSantis signed an executive order in July dictating that mask-wearing for children in public schools must be at the discretion of parents rather than school administrators. As penalty for levying a mask requirement on students and faculty in violation of DeSantis’ directive, the state threatened to revoke salaries and funding from defiant school districts.

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