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NAACP, families sue Florida to throw out ban on school mask mandates

The ban has been a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who says parents have a right to choose whether their children cover their faces.
Credit: AP Photo/Marta Lavandier
In this Aug. 10, 2021, photo, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions related to school openings and the wearing of masks in Surfside, Fla. Top Republicans are battling school districts in their own states’ urban, heavily Democratic areas over whether students should be required to mask up as they head back to school.

TAMPA, Fla — The Florida NAACP and families in Palm Beach County are suing to stop the state from enforcing its ban on school mask mandates.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Law Offices of Joshua Spector filed a lawsuit Friday on their behalf.

The complaint challenges part of a Florida Department of Health rule that bars districts from making students cover their faces. The rule came in response to an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said parents should have the freedom to choose whether their children mask up.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both recommended masks in schools.

The new lawsuit was filed in Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal. Families behind the petition have "medically-vulnerable members who would face severe health challenges, including death, if they were to contract COVID-19 or the highly transmissible Delta variant," the SPLC wrote in a statement.

The families and the NAACP want a court to overturn all the mask-related parts of Florida's emergency rule. They're arguing those sections should be invalidated under the Florida Administrative Procedure Act, which outlines the rule-making process.

"The Department of Health abused its emergency rulemaking power to pass this rule, preventing the public and schools from being heard about how dangerous it is," SPLC Senior Staff Attorney Sam Boyd wrote. "It does zero to protect the public, especially children who desperately want to return to school but only if it is safe to do so. This rule cannot stand."    

The SPLC slammed DeSantis in a statement, saying his actions were part of a "pattern of tyrannical decisions that politicize children."

"These children and their families and many others like them have a right to attend safe schools, but the Florida Department of Health rule and the Governor’s relentless disregard for their well-being makes schools less safe and inaccessible," Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, wrote in a statement. “We are suing to ensure they are not unfairly denied access and to reverse the disparate impact of the pandemic on communities of color and children with disabilities who are already detrimentally impacted by discriminatory barriers in the healthcare and education systems.

DeSantis has been firm in giving parents the freedom on whether to send their children back to school in a mask. The potential consequence of violating his executive order is the loss of funds equivalent to each respective school district's superintendent's salary.

So far, several counties, including Hillsborough County, have defied the governor's mask mandate ban by requiring a doctor's note for students choosing to opt out.

"We are confident in the legal basis for protecting parents’ freedom to choose whether their own children wear masks or not," the governor's office told 10 Tampa Bay early on in the legal process.

You can read the new lawsuit below. If you can't see it, click here.

On Thursday, a judge determined another lawsuit against the mask mandate ban can move forward. Read more about that one here.


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