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Judge Tosses Mask Lawsuit Filed By School Districts In Wake Of State's Rule Change

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

An administrative law judge dismissed the case, noting he did not have any “wiggle room” with the new rule giving parents "sole discretion" on mask-wearing.

The Florida Department of Health’srule change on school mask mandates has short-circuited a lawsuit filed by several school districts over COVID-19 mitigation protocols.

Districts in Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Alachua and Leon counties challenged the original rule created to enforce a governor’s executive order that blocked mandates without parental opt-outs.

The districts sued the health department over language in the rule.

On Wednesday, new Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo signed the rule update, which gives parents “sole discretion” over whether their children wear masks in school – something not specified in the original guidelines.

Shortly after, administrative law Judge Brian Newman said during a telephone hearing that he did not have any “wiggle room” with the new rule and dismissed the case.

There are several other lawsuits related to the governor’s order still pending in state, federal and administrative law courts. i

The health department on Wednesday also gave parents the decision over whether their children quarantine after being exposed to the virus while remaining asymptomatic. The department cited a need to “minimize the amount of time students are removed from in-person learning.”

Ladapo has been critical of school quarantines and raised concerns about them Tuesday during an introductory press conference with reporters.

“Just a perfect example of how glaringly we’ve ignored what public health really means, is how we’ve just brazenly pulled children who need the structure of school … out of school. And we’ve done that … for kids with disabilities,” he said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, during Ladapo’s introduction, reiterated his position that students should be in school as much as possible.

“Keep these kids in school. If they’re sick, send them home, but healthy kids, they have a right to be in a classroom," the governor said.

Several districts have reported significant numbers of students sent home to quarantine because of potential exposure to the virus even though they may not be sick or symptomatic.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.