Florida schools can mandate masks, judge rules

Judge says Governor Ron DeSantis overstepped authority by banning face-covering requirements

School districts in Florida may impose mask mandates, a judge said Friday, ruling that the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, overstepped his authority by issuing an executive order banning the mandates.

The Leon county circuit judge John Cooper agreed with a group of parents who claimed in a lawsuit that DeSantis’ order is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

The news came as it emerged that some Florida districts are asking the public to conserve water to keep hospitals provided with all the liquid oxygen they need to help Covid patients breathe, as well as utilities which need it for water processing.

The governor’s order gave parents the sole right to decide if their child wears a mask at school. Cooper said DeSantis’ order “is without legal authority”.

He issued his decision after a three-day virtual hearing, and after at least 10 Florida school boards voted to defy DeSantis and impose mask requirements with no parental opt-out.

Cooper said that while the governor and others have argued that a new Florida law gives parents the ultimate authority to make health decisions for their children, it also exempts government actions that are needed to protect public health and are reasonable and limited in scope.

He said a school district’s decision to require student masking to prevent the spread of the virus falls within that exemption.

The judge also noted that two Florida state supreme court decisions from 1914 and 1939 found that individual rights are limited by their impact on the rights of others.

For example, he said, adults have the right to drink alcohol but not to drive drunk. There is a right to free speech, but not to harass or threaten others or yell “fire” in a crowded theater, he said.

DeSantis has dismissed the masking recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as not applicable to Florida, but Cooper cited numerous Florida laws and statutes covering healthcare in nursing homes, prisons and elsewhere that say state decision-makers should give great weight to CDC guidelines.

The school districts that have defied DeSantis’ order represent slightly more than half of the 2.8 million Florida public school students enrolled this year.

Orange county, home to the city of Orlando and Disney World, on Tuesday became the latest large district to impose a mask mandate after positive tests for Covid-19 disrupted classes.

The coronavirus pandemic is currently the worst it has ever been in Florida, with record levels of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths as the Delta variant of Covid-19 rages through the state, with the unvaccinated population by far the worst affected.

Tampa and Orlando are among areas asking the public to conserve water, including urging people not to wash their cars or power-wash or water lawns.

Help for very sick Covid-19 hospital patients is using precious water resources across Florida, the Tampa Bay Times reported, saying it was creating competition between hospitals and municipal water systems for crucial supplies of liquid oxygen.

Guardian staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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