(Trends Wide) — A Florida judge ruled against Governor Ron DeSantis on Wednesday and allowed state schools to order the use of masks while the case is appealed at a higher level.
Second Circuit Judge John Cooper’s ruling, effective immediately, means the state of Florida must stop enforcing the mask ban mandates, ending sanctions against several school districts that have implemented those mandates.
The decision comes amid heated clashes between the state and some local school districts, which have insisted on requiring students to wear face masks amid a surge in covid-19 infections.
In late July, DeSantis, a Republican, issued an executive order directing the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Health to issue emergency regulations that give parents the ability to choose whether their children wear masks in class. The state threatened to withhold funding from districts that violated the order and required universal use of masks.
Still, 13 Florida school districts have so far implemented the mask-wearing mandate without parents opting for it, challenging the governor’s position.
Judge Cooper ruled against the DeSantis decree two weeks ago, saying the governor went too far and did not have the authority to prohibit school districts from enforcing mask-wearing mandates without giving parents a choice.
DeSantis appealed that ruling, which led to an immediate hiatus in the mask-wearing mandates in schools while a decision was made.
That pause has now been lifted. In Wednesday’s ruling, Judge Cooper said there was not enough irreparable damage to overturn the automatic stay triggered by the appeal.
“It is indisputable that in Florida we are in the middle of a covid pandemic. Based on the evidence I have heard, there is no harm to the state if the suspension is lifted,” Cooper said.
Cooper added that based on expert witnesses, it is clear that the only way to protect children who cannot be vaccinated is to isolate them at home, which would cause additional harm.
“It is indisputable that the delta variant is much more infectious than the older version of the virus, and that children are more susceptible to the delta variant than they were a year ago,” Cooper said.
“In particular, children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated. So there is really only one or two ways to protect them against the virus … or stay home, or wear the mask.”
Cooper added that, based on the evidence, young students “may not have a way to avoid it except to stay home and isolate themselves.”
“I think everyone agrees that this is not good for them,” Cooper said.
What will happen now with the use of masks in Florida schools?
The case will now go to the First District Court of Appeal.
“They will thoroughly consider the arguments of all parties, and make a decision, then it may or may not end up in the Florida Supreme Court,” Cooper said.
Before Cooper’s ruling, Governor DeSantis said he was “very confident” that he will finally win the court battle over his state ban on mask mandates.
“What we’ve found is, you know, in the trial courts in Tallahassee, state and federal, we usually lose if there’s a political component. But then in the court of appeals, we almost always win,” DeSantis said when asked. about the hearing on Wednesday. “And that’s why I don’t think (the judge) is going to lift the suspension … but if it is lifted, I am confident that that will be restored in the 11th Circuit.”
DeSantis spoke from Palm Coast at an event promoting monoclonal antibody treatments as a method of preventing severe illness and death from covid-19.
– Trends Wide’s Eric Levenson contributed to this report.