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Judge denies state's request to dismiss school boards' challenge to mask mandate ban

The state's current emergency rule, which was updated on Sept. 22, lets parents opt their kids out of school mask policies.
Credit: AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File
FILE: In this Aug. 10, 2021 photo, students, arrive for the first day of school at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, Fla.

FLORIDA, USA — A judge on Wednesday rejected a request by the Florida Department of Health to dismiss a challenge by six school boards questioning the state's rulemaking process when creating its mask mandate ban.

Earlier this month, school boards in Miami-Dade, Leon, Duval, Orange, Broward and Alachua counties cried foul over the state's emergency order banning mask mandate policies. The school boards argued the state didn't go through the proper rulemaking process. They said the public wasn't alerted or given the chance to weigh in before the emergency measures were adopted.

The Florida Department of Health asked a judge to dismiss the challenge. However, Deputy Chief Judge Brian Newman decided that Florida law allows any person affected by a rule to seek "an administrative determination of the invalidity of the rule on the ground that the rule is an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority."

The state's current emergency rule, which was updated on Sept. 22, lets parents opt their kids out of school mask policies. It also ensures students can still attend class in-person if they've been exposed to COVID-19, so long as they don't have symptoms.

Such emergency rules aren't supposed to be in place for more than 90 days in Florida. Because of this, the state is seeking to make a new long-term rule  –with the hope of making its anti-mandate policy more permanent. 

Like the emergency version, the proposed long-term rule would allow school districts to adopt student mask requirements, as long as they allow parents or guardians the chance to opt-out their kids. The long-term version would continue letting asymptomatic students who were exposed to COVID, but have not tested positive themselves, attend school activities as long as they don't develop symptoms.