A Friday court ruling vindicated the mask policies of 10 Florida school districts that have mandated masks in schools without parental opt-outs, despite state agencies forbidding them from doing so.
Now, the court ruling, in a verbal format, could lead to other districts adopting similar policies because the court determined that these kinds of mask mandates are legal, according to the judge.
Mike Riley, a communications staffer for the Charlotte County School District, told the Phoenix that the district did not previously have plans to go against the state policies regarding the mask mandates, and opted for a mask-optional policy.
“We are always in compliance with the legislature, with the state school board, the commissioner of education and the governor. We’ve done that for years,” Riley told the Phoenix. Charlotte County neighbors one of the districts with a more severe mask policy, Sarasota County School District in South Florida.
Riley told the Phoenix that the district will be “looking at this.”
Previously, 10 school districts with mask mandates that only allow for a medical reason to opt out had been facing a legal conundrum. Until this ruling, it was not certain if these districts were actively breaking Florida law with their mask policies. Various moves from the DeSantis administration intended to prohibit school districts from implementing mask mandates in schools, insisting such decisions should be left up to parents.
But, in a Friday court ruling, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper enjoined Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the state Department of Education, and Florida Board of Education from imposing a blanket ban on face mask mandates by school boards, paving the way for other school districts it.
“With this coming down, the board has not met yet,” Riley said. “They have a workshop coming up… I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion about this.”
He continued: “Our priority is the safety and well-being of our children — we will act in good faith to do the best we can on that.”
A communication staffer with Polk County told the Phoenix in an email that: “At this time, the Polk County School Board has not indicated there would be any change to our policy.” Polk County is located in central Florida and currently has a mask optional policy.
In Pinellas County, the school board is waiting for an official written order before making any further decisions on mask mandates, according to a communications staffer.
–Danielle J. Brown, The Florida Phoenix