Florida’s DeSantis asks judge to toss suit over mask mandate ban

Erik Larson
Bloomberg

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit by parents challenging his ban on strict mask mandates in schools, arguing the court lacks jurisdiction over the issue.

Disgruntled parents who “fear being around unvaccinated, non-masked people” don’t have a right to sue because the executive order raises political rather than legal questions, DeSantis argued in a motion to dismiss filed Monday in state court in Tallahassee, Florida.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an event at the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside on August 10, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.

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“The governor, as the public official duly elected by the majority of the citizens of the state of Florida, was entrusted with the sole authority to make such statewide policy determinations – not the parent plaintiffs, and not a court,” a lawyer for DeSantis said in the filing.

DeSantis, a Republican seen as a possible successor to former President Donald Trump, has staked out a controversial position on mask rules just as schools are reopening and the highly contagious delta variant is sickening thousands of people in Florida. An average of about 203 people a day are dying in the state with confirmed or suspected Covid, matching its November peak.

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“With data showing a ten-fold increase in Covid-19 infections at schools over same time last year, we remain committed to the safety of all those in schools,” Charles Gallagher, the parents’ lawyer, said in an email.

DeSantis argued in the filing that his executive order and the resulting state health department rule allowing parents to opt-out of any mask mandates for students “were implemented after balancing the legitimate state interests of school safety and parental rights.”

Judge John C. Cooper of Florida’s second judicial circuit said last week he’d hear arguments on Aug. 19 and rule the same day on the state’s motion to dismiss. If he allows the case to proceed, Cooper said he’d hold a longer hearing the following week with testimony from health experts and other witnesses, including concerned parents, and rule by Aug. 25.