Aug 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

DeSantis' order on mask mandates in schools sparks legal challenges


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Florida parents, including those of students with disabilities, have filed legal challenges to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order barring mask mandates in schools.

Why it matters: The lawsuits, filed in state and federal court, come as Florida is experiencing a surge of new COVID cases, largely driven by the Delta variant.

Driving the news: DeSantis issued the order late last month, directing the Florida Department of Education and Department of Health to release emergency rules protecting parents' rights to decide whether their children will wear masks.

  • The order also said that "if the State Board of Education determines that a district school board is unwilling or unable to comply with the law, the State Board shall have the authority to, among other things, withhold the transfer of state funds, discretionary grant funds ... and declare the school district ineligible for competitive grants."
  • A group of parents filed suit on behalf of 15 children with disabilities in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, arguing that the ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • “The Governor’s most recent executive order preventing school districts from putting protections in place for students ... has tied the hands of school districts from acting and made it impossible for school districts to provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment,” according to the complaint.

What they're saying: "They are framing this as a parent choice issue when this is really a public health issue," Charles Gallagher, an attorney involved in one of the state lawsuits, said, per CNN.

  • “Requiring masks at school will protect our children. Currying favor with narrow political interests will not,” said Rev. Elvin Dowling, who is running for the congressional seat in Florida's 20th District, and filed a separate lawsuit as a parent of three school-aged children on Friday.

Go deeper: DeSantis issues order barring Florida schools from mandating masks

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