Judge blocks DeSantis from banning school mask mandates

School districts in Florida will be allowed to impose mask requirements after a district judge on Friday blocked an executive order from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisThe CDC's Title 42 order fuels racism and undermines public health Chicago sues police union over refusal to comply with vaccine mandate Crist says as Florida governor he would legalize marijuana, expunge criminal records MORE (R) banning the mandates.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled in favor of a group of parents who sued DeSantis over his executive order, arguing it was unconstitutional. He ruled the order is “without legal authority” and is by definition “arbitrary” and “capricious.”

Cooper issued an injunction stopping the Department of Education from taking any action against local districts that require masks in schools without a parental opt-out. 

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Cooper said the state's new "Parents' Bill of Rights" does not allow the governor or the Department of Education to prohibit school districts from mandating masks. 

"The law expressly permits school boards to adopt policies regarding the health care of students, such as a mask mandate, even if a parent disagrees," Cooper said. “Parents' rights are very important, but they are not without some reasonable limitations."

DeSantis previously said he would appeal if the ruling was not in his favor. 

The executive order from DeSantis was intended to stop schools from requiring masks, and a subsequent rule from the Health Department said public schools must allow a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out of any mask requirements without any reason.

DeSantis and the state Board of Education had threatened to impose financial penalties on school boards that impose strict mask mandates. 

But the Biden administration is supporting school districts that defy GOP governors, and has directed the U.S. Department of Education to take action against governors that prevent school officials from imposing mask mandates.

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At least seven Florida districts, including some of the state's largest, have imposed strict mask mandates that require a medical reason before allowing students to opt-out. 

State attorneys argued during the three-day trial that the evidence on the benefits of mask-wearing was inconclusive at best, and that it should be up to parents to decide if their student should have to be masked.

Face mask policies that follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance "are at this point in time reasonable and in the best scientific interest," Cooper said.

"The evidence clearly demonstrates that the recommendation by the CDC for universal masking … represents the overwhelming consensus of scientists and the medical community," Cooper said. "The evidence submitted by the defendants [the governor] I think reflects a minority of medical opinions.”