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Breaking News: Court reinstates school mask mandate ban pending outcome of appeal

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From Staff, Wire Reports

A Florida appeals court put a hold on an earlier judge’s ruling that said the state could not enforce a ban on strict mask mandates in schools.

The 1st District Court of Appeal agreed to a state request to reinstate a stay on Judge John Cooper’s ruling after complaints from a group of parents who said the move could cause “irreparable harm” to their children amid a rise of COVID-19 cases.

The decision means the state can continue to penalize school officials who continue mask mandates without a parent opt-out.

“Upon our review of the trial court’s final judgment and the operative pleadings, we have serious doubts about standing, jurisdiction, and other threshold matters,” the order states. “These doubts significantly militate against vacating the automatic stay, the stay should have been left in place pending appellate review.”

Judge John Cooper of Florida's Second Circuit Court in Leon County ruled last month that the state overstepped its authority in restricting school districts from enacting mask mandates after parents sued officials amid a surge in coronavirus infections.

Cooper sided with parents from six Florida counties including Orange County who challenged Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials, stating that the order infringes on classroom safety guaranteed by the state’s Constitution.

Cooper ordered that the state cannot require districts to offer voluntary mandates over “the preservation of general welfare,” comparing the masking issue to the difference between the right to drink alcohol and the criminality of drunken driving.

“We don’t have a right to go into a crowded theater and yell fire because we decided it’s our right to do that,” he said.

“We are disappointed by the ruling and will be seeking pass-through jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Florida. With a stay in place, students, parents, and teachers are back in harm’s way,” said Charles Gallagher, the lead attorney for the group of parents suing the state over its mask mandate.

Thirteen school districts including Orange County have strict mask requirements despite the state order.

In response, the state is withholding funds equivalent to the monthly salaries of school board members in Broward and Alachua counties and started investigating others for non-compliance.

This is a breaking news story that will be updated.

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