A Leon County circuit judge has scheduled a hearing Friday in a lawsuit filed by parents challenging an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis that seeks to prevent school districts from requiring students to wear masks during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Attorneys for a dozen parents from Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Alachua, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties filed the lawsuit in Leon County, contending that the order violates parts of the Florida Constitution. Circuit Judge John Cooper will hear arguments Friday on an emergency motion for an injunction against the executive order.
The lawsuit, in part, alleges that the executive order violates part of the Constitution that requires the provision of a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system” of public schools. It contends that preventing school districts from requiring masks threatens the safety of schools.
“The Florida Constitution requires that state entities and public officials, who are charged with overseeing the funding and operations of public education, ensure that Florida’s schools operate safely,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants cannot legally deny students, public school staff, their family members and the public with whom they come in contact within the public school system their basic human needs for health and safety.”
The 25-page lawsuit was filed Friday night and names as defendants DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education. Separately, parents of children with disabilities filed a federal lawsuit Friday in South Florida arguing that DeSantis’ executive order discriminates against disabled students.
DeSantis’ effort to prevent mask requirements for students has drawn national attention. He issued the executive order July 30. Carrying out DeSantis’ direction, the Florida Department of Health on Friday issued a rule that, in part, allows parents to choose for their students not to wear masks, a move known as an “opt out.”
The governor argues that it should be up to parents whether their children wear masks at school.
“It’s a parent’s choice in Florida, and government can’t override the parents,” DeSantis said last week.
The lawsuit filed in Leon County raises a series of arguments in addition to the contention that the executive order violates a requirement for safe schools. For example, it argues that the order violates constitutional home-rule powers of school districts.
“As such, local school boards, elected by local citizens, have the power to operate, control and supervise public schools in the district under home rule powers,” the lawsuit, filed by eight attorneys from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, said. “Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment determining that the state government defendants have failed to abide by the requirements of the Florida Constitution by enacting the executive order that precludes county school boards from enacting mandatory masking.”
Several of the plaintiffs in the case are parents of children who are too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Two plaintiffs are parents of a Miami-Dade County child with severe asthma who, the lawsuit said, could lose a spot in a magnet school if he is unable to attend in person.
The lawsuit describes Florida as the “nation’s hotspot for the present wave” of the pandemic and cites the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus and increased hospitalization rates.
The state had not filed arguments in the case as of early Tuesday afternoon, according to a court docket.
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida