Judge rules Florida school mandatory mask ban is unconstitutional

By John Haughey
The Center Square
August 28, 2021

Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper has essentially upheld a newly-adopted Florida parental rights bill in ruling that Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the state constitution – as well as that law – when he issued an executive order allowing parents to ignore school district mask mandates

In a ruling watched closely across the country, Cooper during a two-hour hearing Friday explained his reasoning in ruling that the governor overstepped his authority when he signed his June 30 executive order based on House Bill 1059, the Parents’ Bill of Rights Act, adopted by lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session.

HB 1059 requires districts and agencies cede to parents in decisions regarding their children. Under the law, the state is not allowed to “infringe on the fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health” of a child “without demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest.”

Cooper cited that last sentence in issuing his ruling.

“My ruling in this case, if you want to put it in one sentence is, I am enforcing the bill passed by the Legislature and requiring that anyone who uses that bill to follow all provisions and no part of the provisions,” Cooper said, noting DeSantis’ executive order and subsequent directives from the state’s Department of Education (DOE) did not include the last sentence.

Cooper said DOE can enforce HB 1059, but must “do so in accordance with the terms of the law” and ruled that school boards can mask mandates as long as they “demonstrate its reasonableness and the other factors in the law.”

“I am not saying yes or no to any particular policy,” he said. “This orphan statute (HB 1059) does not support a statewide order or any action interfering with the constitutionally provided authority of local school districts to provide for the safety and health of children, based on the unique facts on the ground.”

Cooper’s ruling follows a four-day trial that concluded in his Tallahassee courtroom Thursday that deliberated a lawsuit filed by parents from seven counties asking him to nix DeSantis’ executive order and allow school boards to manage the pandemic in local schools.

Plaintiffs, nine couples and individual parents with children younger than 12 who attend school in Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties, maintained DeSantis’ order violates districts’ authority under the state constitution, denies due process and is “arbitrary and capricious.”

Cooper’s ruling also prevents the state’s Board of Education (BOE) from taking action against school boards that defined the executive order.

On Aug. 17, the BOE agreed the Alachua and Broward school boards violated the order and HB 1059 by imposing mask mandates and should be docked state funding the equivalent of school board/administrator salaries. In addition, some officials could be removed from posts.

However, the number of school boards defying DeSantis and the BOE since the trial began Monday doubled to more than 10. As of Friday, nearly half of Florida’s 2.9 million K-12 students were attending schools that require masks.

The DeSantis administration is expected to file an appeal to stay Cooper’s order. The governor himself said on Wednesday that he expected the loser in the case to appeal.

“Good,” he said repeated Thursday. “I think we obviously need to have this stuff crystallized.”

DeSantis said Florida will “obviously” appeal any ruling that dilutes HB 1059.,

“We feel the Legislature really made a big statement with their parental bill of rights,” DeSantis said.


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John Calkins
John Calkins (@guest_62266)
2 years ago

That explanation requires even more explanations. Lawmakers MUST carefully define the actions and duties of those using or implementing their laws to assure that everyone impacted has effectively executed their duties to both the intent and letter of the law. School Boards or any organization making arbitrary or biased decisions based upon their unqualified opinions, is a mockery of the entire justice system.

Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
2 years ago
Reply to  John Calkins

I agree, Mr Calkins, legislative decisions should nit be arbitrary or biased. That is why vaccine requirements, mask mandates, social distancing or shuttering of potential spreader events have been upheld by the courts. They are reasonable, fact-based, and result from diligent research, not someone’s political agenda.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery(@douglasm)
2 years ago

Haughey seems to leave out some words in his sentences making it a bit confusing. As reported here, this is one vague and bizarre ruling by Cooper. Is Cooper saying you have to follow state law granting parental rights then rules against the Governor’s EO because he didn’t include the last sentence from the law in the EO????

Clearly the intent of DeSantis’ EO was to follow the law…..if this is just an administrative error in the Judge’s opinion, then that is a very weak ruling. Cooper clearly kicks the can down the road when he says an appeal is “good” so this can become “crystallized”…….wow, he didn’t help anybody in this case…….just wasted time and legal fees.

Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
2 years ago
Reply to  Doug Mowery

Mr. Mowery, I think you might have scanned the article too quickly and made some incorrect assumptions based on that hasty scan. First, the ruling was very clear: school boards have the right to set policy that parents must obey (or take their children out of that school) when those policies are demonstrably reasonable. DeSantis’s mandate left out that clause on reasonableness, essentially cherry-picking the part of the law he wanted to promote without its limitations. That cherry-picking was what made his mandate illegal. Finally, it was DeSantis who wanted the ruling “crystallized,” not the judge. This was a clear, common sense ruling that DeSantis admitted would be coming. But he scored some points with his “base,” which was his whole point in the first place (not the safety of children, parents, or school personnel). Thank you.

Bruce Smyk
Bruce Smyk (@guest_62311)
2 years ago

Just wear the mask, everyone.

Edward Kelly
Edward Kelly (@guest_62315)
2 years ago

Public education has spiraled into the abyss, in all areas. Find a way to fund private education for your children and avoid public education.