An appeals court has overturned Gov. Ron DeSantis' order banning school masks

Marta Lavandier/AP

A Florida court has decided that school districts in the state may compel kids to wear masks while participating in sports or other activities. At least ten school districts, including those in some of the state's biggest cities, have been violating state regulations enacted by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which prohibited mask requirements in public schools.

After hearing arguments from parents who claimed DeSantis overstepped his authority when his administration said that school districts could not compel children to wear masks, Judge John Cooper reached a decision. DeSantis had previously warned that "consequences" would follow for districts that refused to comply with the prohibition.

In his decision, made from the bench at the end of a five-day trial, Cooper said that face mask requirements that follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are "reasonable and consistent with the greatest scientific and medical judgment in this nation." After reviewing the evidence, he determined that the DeSantis administration had violated the law by prohibiting school districts from mandating masks.

The Florida Departments of Health and Education published regulations in response to a governor's order prohibiting school districts from forcing children to wear face masks without providing them with the opportunity to opt-out. Face mask requirements, according to DeSantis, violate a Florida statute that states that parents have the right to make educational and health-care choices for their children.

Cooper said DeSantis disregarded a section of Florida law that allows school districts to take measures that are "reasonable and necessary to accomplish a compelling state interest" when issuing the executive order and regulations prohibiting face mask requirements.

An injunction will be issued by the court, barring any action against school districts that have face mask requirements from the DeSantis administration. The Florida Board of Education has said that it intends to withhold funding from the first two school districts in Alachua and Broward counties to implement face mask requirements.

Lawyers for the parents claim that DeSantis' decision breaches a constitutional mandate that districts run schools that are safe and secure. The case is scheduled to be heard this week. The state argues that parents have the last say in determining what is best for their children's well-being. The judge's decision enables school districts to impose mask requirements.

The coronavirus — specifically the delta variant — is highly contagious and can be fatal to children, according to Cooper. "We will not solve any issue if we can't sit down and work together and take positions that recognize what's going on is not some recent imposition or some attack on the country," he said of the situation.

In recent months, the coronavirus and its delta form have wreaked havoc throughout the state of Florida (an elementary school in Vero Beach shut down on Friday until after Labor Day). At this stage in the pandemic, more individuals have been infected with and hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any other time. The number of fatalities, which averages around 242 per day, is also nearing a new high.

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