Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper sided with parents who claimed that DeSantis’ order was unconstitutional. He also said that it cannot be enforced. Parents had the sole power to decide whether their child wore a mask to school under the governor's order.
Cooper stated that DeSantis' order was "without legal authority."
After a three-day virtual hearing and 10 Florida school boards voting to defy DeSantis, they voted unanimously to impose mask requirements without parental opt-out. Districts that have done this include Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando as well as Tampa, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Tampa, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, and others. Cooper's ruling won't take effect until it's written, which the judge requested the parents' attorneys to do by Monday.
Cooper stated that, while the governor and others argue that the new Florida law gives parents ultimate authority over health issues for their children's health, it also exempts government action that is necessary to protect public health and that are reasonable and limited. Cooper said that a school district's decision not to require students to cover their faces to stop the spread of the virus is an example of this exemption.
Cooper stated that the law does not ban mask mandates. The hearing was held online due to the resurgent pandemic. It doesn't say that a mask mandate should include a parental opt out.
He also pointed out that the impact of individual rights on others' rights was limited in two Florida Supreme Court cases from 1914 and 1939. He stated that adults can drink alcohol, but they cannot drive drunk if it is dangerous for others. He said that while free speech is protected, it is not permissible to harass, threaten, or shout "fire" in a packed theater.
He said that school boards could also argue that students who are not properly dressed pose a risk to the health of teachers and students.
DeSantis dismissed the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have people wear masks. He also questioned its legitimacy and said it was not applicable in Florida. Cooper stated that the state's medical experts, who testified at the trial that masking was ineffective in stopping COVID-19's spread, are in a small minority of scientists and doctors. Cooper also stated that DeSantis often states that masks are ineffective. However, a Brown University study found that they were not effective. The study's authors said this should not be taken as fact.
Cooper stated, "I don’t think the governor has enough time to read a report this thick, but his advisors do...and that statement is incorrect."
Friday's announcement by the governor's office stated that Cooper's decision was not based on law and that the state would appeal.
"It's not surprising Judge Cooper would rule against parents and their right to make the best educational, medical and family decisions for their families but instead rule in favour of elected politicians," Taryn Fenske, spokeswoman, said in a statement. "This ruling was made without coherent justifications and not based on science or facts -- frankly, it wasn't even focused on the merits.
Craig Whisenhunt was one of the parents' attorneys and called DeSantis’ actions "atrocious" as well as calling him "a bully in a room that is beating up kids."
He said that the path he chose was evidence of cowardice. Whisenhunt stated that DeSantis would not have issued an executive or if he truly believed that the parental rights law prohibited districts from imposing mandates for masks. He would have taken the districts to court to get a judge to stop them.
Amy Nell, a Tampa-area parent who sued Cooper, stated that Cooper's ruling made her feel heard "for the first time in quite a while."
It has felt strangely normal since the start of school year. Nell, whose child is in elementary school, said that science -- everything we believe it to be and all we know about viruses -- may not be true.
The highly contagious delta variant caused an increase in Florida cases and record-breaking hospitalizations as schools prepared for reopening classrooms later this month. Mid-August saw more than 21,000 cases per day, up from 8,500 a month ago. The number of new cases and hospitalizations has slowed over the past week. On Thursday, 16,550 people were admitted to hospital. This is a decrease from the record high of 17,000 set last week. However, it was almost nine times as many as the 1,800 that were admitted in June.
DeSantis' order was broken by 10 districts, which is slightly less than half the total 2.8 million students in Florida public schools. Republican governor DeSantis threatened to impose financial sanctions on school boards. He specifically threatened two districts from Democratic strongholds who voted for strict mask mandates. The Democratic President Joe Biden stated that federal money would be used for any costs if this happened.
According to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 6 out 10 Americans believe that teachers and students should wear masks when they go to school.