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Attorneys warn state to cease enforcement of mask mandate ban in public schools

'We'll ... certainly seek sanctions,' attorney Charles Gallagher says
Posted at 10:58 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-31 22:58:47-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — State officials said Tuesday they would continue enforcement of the governor's mask mandate ban in public schools despite a soon-to-be-in-effect court ruling finding it unlawful.

The final language for Circuit Judge John Cooper's Friday ruling was expected this week, but the Florida Education Department isn't waiting.

Officials moved forward with financial penalties Monday even though the judge's decision will forbid it.

Broward and Alachua county's school districts, the first defectors, have already been sanctioned.

"We're going to fight to protect parent's rights to make health care decisions for their children," said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran in a statement. "They know what is best for their children. What's unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow."

Florida school districts with mask mandates
Twelve school districts in Florida implemented a mask mandate against the governor's executive order.

Interim Broward Superintendent Dr. Vickie Cartwright responded to the state's action Tuesday morning.

She said the district would comply with salary cuts for board members who approved Broward's masking policy. The rule, however, is staying put.

"The health and safety of our students, teachers and staff continue to be our highest priority," she said. "As such, we will continue to mandate the mask knowing that our data -- as we are looking at it -- quarantine data is demonstrating that the use of the mask is helping to minimize the spread of COVID-19."

At least 12 districts are defying the governor, not offering parental opt-outs. In a statement, Florida Department of Education Communications Director Jared M. Ochs warned officials would keep seeking penalties against them.

"Unlike several school districts in this state, our Department plans on continuing to follow the rule of law until such time as the Court issues its ruling, and subsequent to that ruling, we plan on immediately appealing this decision to the First DCA, from which we will seek to stay the ruling," Ochs said. "We actually began withholding these funds last Thursday, based on the already lawfully executed orders of the State Board of Education."

Attorney Charles Gallagher
Attorney Charles Gallagher says there could be legal ramifications if the state continues to push the governor's mask mandate ban.

Charles Gallagher, an attorney challenging the ban, said the state's move "exceeds the idea of being petty."

Once Cooper's ruling is final, he warned that enforcement needed to stop or else.

"We'll certainly, you know, certainly seek sanctions," Gallagher said. "We'll certainly seek contempt orders for that because it's clearly a violation of court ruling."

In the meantime, any punished district may soon have federal dollars to backfill losses. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who’s working with the White House, reaffirmed the promise.

Nikki Fried, Florida Agricultural Commissioner
Florida Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried says punished schools districts may receive federal assistance.

"Just the same way that they send CARES dollars down," she said. "There is mechanisms because we do have a federal state of emergency."

Gov. Ron DeSantis has continued to defend his ban during recent news conferences. He called it protection of a parent's right to choose during a press event in Jacksonville, Monday.

"It'll be appealed," DeSantis said. "We’ll end up getting it back. At the end of the day ultimately, we're just trying to stand with the parents."

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