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A state trial judge has given the DeSantis administration until noon Monday to file written arguments explaining why officials believe he should throw out a legal challenge to the governor’s policies against mask mandates for public school students.
Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper on Friday also scheduled a hearing to debate those arguments for 2 p.m. next Thursday and said he would rule at that time whether to toss the case. Cooper tentatively set a trial on the merits of the case for 2 p.m. on Aug. 23. He said he would rule that day.
The proceeding was conducted via Zoom, as will all subsequent hearings, per Cooper.
Named plaintiffs in the case are nine couples or individual parents with children in the public schools who are under age 12, the cut-off for eligibility for the available vaccines. The kids attend school in Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, and Pinellas counties.
The complaint notes the recent caseload spike involving the highly contagious Delta variant and that both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics recommends masking in schools to prevent the spread — advice Gov. Ron DeSantis defies with his policies giving parents the right to chose whether their kids wear masks.
“As a matter of law, public school on-site instruction and operations must be conducted safely; the Florida Constitution mandates that ‘adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools,’” it says.
“Defendants Gov. DeSantis, Commissioner [of Education Richard] Corcoran, the Department of Education, and the Board of Education’s arbitrary, dangerous, and unconstitutional actions, under the guise of parent choice, in the midst of the pandemic, create an imminent and actual threat to public health, safety, and welfare of Florida’s students,” the complaint alleges.
The parents want the court to declare that DeSantis’ rules and threats against districts that buck it are unconstitutional, violate districts’ authority to set mask policy according to local conditions, are “arbitrary and capricious,” and deny due process. They also want an injunction barring enforcement of the rules.
Attorneys for the state argued on Friday that they would seek dismissal on a number of grounds, including that the case involves political questions that should be left to elected officials, not judges.
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