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Tuesday, November 9, 2021

School districts appeal Florida mask mandate ruling, ask for quick consideration

Posted By on Tue, Nov 9, 2021 at 10:43 AM

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School boards are asking an appeals court to “expedite” consideration of a challenge to a Florida Department of Health rule aimed at preventing student mask requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorneys for the school boards in Miami-Dade, Leon, Duval, Broward and Alachua counties took the case Friday to the 4th District Court of Appeal after an administrative law judge upheld the emergency rule. The boards filed a motion Monday asking the appeals court to put the case on a fast track.

The emergency rule, issued Sept. 22, said decisions to opt out of student mask requirements are at the “sole discretion” of parents or guardians. Also, it allowed students to attend school if they have been exposed to COVID-19 but are asymptomatic, preventing districts from requiring quarantines for those students.

The Florida Department of Education has used the rule as a basis to impose financial penalties on school districts that have required students to wear masks. The school boards argued, in part, that the Department of Health overstepped its authority with the rule, which helped carry out a July 30 executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Administrative Law Judge Brian Newman issued a 25-page decision Friday rejecting the challenge. In asking the appeals court to move quickly, the attorneys for the school boards said the emergency rule is slated to expire Dec. 21.

“Moreover, appellants (the school boards and Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna) are adversely affected by the new emergency rule, not only because of DOE’s (the Department of Education’s) enforcement and continuing penalties, but because the uncertainty surrounding the validity of appellants’ existing mask and quarantine policies is creating administrative difficulties and confusion for hundreds of thousands of students, as well as their teachers and parents,” the motion said. “Modification of those policies to achieve the compliance mandated by DOE would, in appellants’ view, unquestionably increase serious health risks for all concerned.”

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