NAACP challenges Florida's school mask mandate ban

The Florida State Conference of the NAACP and two Palm Beach County families are asking an appeals court to review a state health department rule aimed at allowing parents to opt out of local school mask mandates.

Plaintiffs are seeking to invalidate an emergency rule by the state Department of Health that, in part, requires parents be allowed to opt out of mask requirements imposed by local school districts. The rule was triggered by a July 30 executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis seeking to block such mandates.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Miami-based attorney Joshua Spector filed the petition at the 4th District Court of Appeal on Friday on behalf of two medically vulnerable students, their siblings and their parents.

A press release issued by the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center on Friday said that one of the students, who has Down Syndrome, “has a greater risk of dying from COVID-19 because of her medical conditions and having already survived double pneumonia after twelve days in the hospital.”

The release said the health department’s order forces the student “to stay at home with no access to the synchronous remote classes and therapies she received throughout the pandemic during the last school year.” The petition alleges that the state hasn’t met requirements that restrict agencies’ ability to enact emergency rules.

Such rules are permissible only if they are necessary to address “immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare” under certain conditions, lawyers for the families argued. The petition noted that the Palm Beach County school district is not in compliance with the health department's rule, after the school board voted this week to require students to wear masks unless they have a doctor’s note.

“The fact that their district has temporarily chosen to defy the emergency rule is immaterial. Petitioners are still adversely affected because they are at serious risk of soon being forced to attend a partially unmasked school or be exposed to family members who do if the state is successful in its unrelenting efforts to compel districts to comply. Petitioners should not have to wait until they are once again at direct risk of death to challenge the rule that threatens to place them there again,” the 34-page petition said.

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