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

Related Content

Article image
Florida and Texas schools defy governors’ mask mandate bans as cases soar
Biden administration considering reimbursing school officials who lose their pay if DeSantis follows through on his threat

Guardian staff and agencies

11, Aug, 2021 @2:57 PM

Article image
Judge sides with Florida and says CDC cannot enforce Covid cruise ship rules
Governor De Santis hails ‘major victory’ following ruling that CDC’s ‘conditional sailing order’ is non-binding

Victoria Bekiempis and agencies

19, Jun, 2021 @4:28 PM

Article image
Ron DeSantis appeals mask mandate ruling as Florida Covid deaths set record
August’s 5,721 deaths were highest since start of pandemic as governor seeks to ban mask mandates in schools

Guardian staff and agencies

03, Sep, 2021 @6:08 PM

Article image
More Florida school districts to require masks in battle against governor’s order
At least seven districts, accounting for more than a million students, are in defiance of DeSantis’s order banning mask mandates

Richard Luscombe in Miami

23, Aug, 2021 @2:58 PM

Article image
Florida wrestles with impossible question: when can schools reopen safely?
Broward county, the nation’s sixth-largest school district, is trying to work out a reopening plan – but no one is quite sure how, and when, it will happen

Jessica Glenza

12, Jul, 2020 @10:00 AM

Article image
‘A vocal group got its way’: Florida parents condemn schools’ lack of mask mandates
Amid powerful resistance to mandates from Florida’s governor and his supporters, some parents are frustrated that others are ignoring safety protocols

Salomé Gómez-Upegui

18, Aug, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
‘I don’t see how it can be safe’: Florida schools on frontlines of state’s mask war
Ron DeSantis has promised to cut off state funding to any district that forces children to wear face coverings – but some schools are bucking his ultimatum

Francisco Alvarado in Miami

08, Aug, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
The Florida patrol attempting to enforce a mask mandate
A Key West team is expected to enforce a new mandate allowing people to go maskless outdoors if they are 6ft apart – an impossible task among partygoers

Jessica Glenza in Key West

27, Sep, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Florida: endangered sea turtles thriving thanks to Covid-19 restrictions
Researchers are seeing an increase in nests as restrictions keep humans and harmful waste off beaches

Richard Luscombe in Miami

19, Apr, 2020 @9:52 PM

Article image
Florida hospitals stretched to capacity by acute coronavirus outbreak
Governor Ron DeSantis claims the situation is ‘stabilized’ but full ICU beds and overflowing emergency rooms tell a different story

Jessica Glenza

24, Jul, 2020 @7:00 AM