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Two Florida parents who filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates in public schools argued Monday that the governor’s mask-optional policies put their kids, who have serious medical conditions already, at greater risk from COVID-19.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Matthew Dietz said during a Zoom news conference that “schools are obligated to provide an environment in which kids with disabilities can safely be educated in an integrated environment.”
Additional families in Hillsborough and Pasco counties have joined the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Miami, which focuses on education rights of students with disabilities. Trial opened Monday in a separate lawsuit filed in state court raising related claims.
“What this case is for these parents is what their rights are,” said Dietz. “Their rights under the American Disability Act guarantee that their children are entitled to go to school, to be safe in school.”
U.S. Rep Charlie Crist, a Democratic candidate for governor, appeared during the news conference to criticize DeSantis. “The governor doesn’t care about anyone but himself and what’s best for him,” he said.
At least seven school districts have defied DeSantis’ order by imposing mask mandates, which state officials insist violate Florida law. And the Florida Board of Education announced a plan to begin withholding funds from districts in Alachua and Broward counties over its mask mandates for schoolchildren.
Robyn McCarthy, who has a 6-year-old son with asthma, believes schools should offer online learning and hybrid models with both virtual and in-person classes to accommodate children with disabilities.
“We need action right now; we need mitigation measures,” McCarthy said during the press conference. “I need virtual options on the table. I’m begging you to help us get this virtual option.”
Another parent, Jamie Kinder, has a 9-year-old daughter who is immunocompromised.
“She just wants adults to help her access education and that means putting masks on everybody,” Kinder said.
“This governor does not care or seem to understand that parents like the McCarthys and the Kinders with children with disabilities cannot afford to take any sort of risk when it comes to the health of their kids,” Crist said.
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