After Judge Strikes Down Florida Ban on School Mask Mandates, What's Next?

A Florida judge on Friday ruled that Governor Ron DeSantis' executive order banning schools from implementing mask mandates is unconstitutional, a move the Republican leader announced he will appeal.

The governor has yet to personally respond to Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper's decision that the mandate ban doesn't "pass constitutional muster." However, a spokesperson for DeSantis said that the state plans to fight it.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Takes Off Mask
A judge has overturned Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' ban on local school districts implementing mask mandates. Above, DeSantis takes off a mask as he prepares to speak at a press conference at a Miami Gardens coronavirus testing site on May 6, 2020. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Taryn Fenske, DeSantis' communications director, announced the plan to appeal in a statement released after the ruling. The state's Department of Education also announced it would appeal.

"We are immensely disappointed that the ruling issued today by the Second Judicial Circuit discards the rule of law," Jared Ochs, director of communications for Florida's Education Department, said in a statement.

"This decision conflicts with basic and established rights of parents to make private health care and education decisions for children," Ochs added. "We will continue to fight to make sure every child has access to education. We are committed to the fundamental rights of parents and will push forward on appeal to ensure that this foundation of democracy is upheld."

In her statement, Fenske said, "It's not surprising that Judge Cooper would rule against parents' rights and their ability to make the best educational and medical decisions for their family, but instead rule in favor of elected politicians."

She went on, "We will continue to defend the law and parents' rights in Florida, and will immediately appeal the ruling to the First District Court of Appeals, where we are confident we will prevail on the merits of the case."

DeSantis' executive order allowed parents to decide if their children should wear a mask to school, a move that was challenged by a group of parents in a lawsuit that said the ban was unconstitutional.

Following a three-day hearing, Cooper decided on Friday that the ban on mandates was "without legal authority" after at least 10 Florida school boards voted to go against DeSantis' order.

DeSantis has argued a new Florida law gives parents the authority in making health-related decisions for their children, but Cooper noted there are exemptions in the law in regards to protecting the public's health. Mask mandates put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus qualify for such an exemption, Cooper said.

A little more than half of Florida's 2.8 million public school students are enrolled in the school districts that voted to defy the governor's order. DeSantis has threatened to withhold funds to school boards that impose mask mandates, but President Joe Biden has said federal money would be used to cover that funding.