Judge tosses Florida school districts' lawsuit over mask mandate ban

A Florida judge tossed a challenge from several of the state’s school districts over the Sunshine State’s ban on school mask mandates.

In a 22-page decision Friday, an administrative law judge ruled that officials from six counties failed to prove that the ban was “an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority.”

In a statement, the Florida Department of Health hailed the ruling as “yet another victory for parent’s rights.”

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"At this point, the courts have been entirely clear: All school districts must come into compliance with the law and honor parental rights to make decisions for their children," the statement said.

The ruling is the latest in a months-long battle between school districts and the state which has resulted in some districts losing hundreds of thousands of dollars over their masking protocols.

School officials from Alachua, Broward Miami-Dade, Leon and Duval counties filed the lawsuit in October over the masking rules that took effect in September after Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida health official suspended amid investigation into vaccines for state employees George Conway: DeSantis plans for new police force to monitor elections 'just pathetic' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Schumer tees up doomed election reform vote MORE (R) signed an executive order allowing parents to choose whether their children should wear masks to school. 

Two of the districts named as plaintiffs, Broward and Alachua, have had mask mandates in place for students and staff regardless of vaccination. Late last month, the Broward County Public Schools decided to relax its mandate.

More than $525,000 has been withheld from Broward County Public Schools, and more than $190,000 has been withheld from Alachua County due to their mask mandates.

The Biden administration has issued a “cease and desist” complaint to the Florida Department of Education for withholding federal grant money because of the mandates.

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Administrative Law Judge Bryan Newman wrote that the opt-out provision strikes “the right balance by ensuring that the protocols that govern the control of COVID-19 in schools go no further than what is required to keep children safe and in school.”

Jackie Johnson, a spokesperson for the Alachua School District, said in a statement the district will allow parents of elementary and middle school students to opt out on Dec. 7, which it has already said it would.

“Obviously we are disappointed by the ruling. However, we knew that whatever the decision, it would be appealed, and we will certainly be appealing,” Johnson said.