TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida judge on Friday gave defense attorneys until noon Monday to file a motion to dismiss a case that challenges Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban against school mask mandates.
What You Need To Know
- Judge in DeSantis mask case gives defense attorneys until noon Monday to file motion to dismiss
- Parents who brought lawsuit live in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange counties, among others
- Lawsuit is separate from one, filed late last week, that focuses on children with disabilities
Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper emphasized in a Zoom hearing that he plans to move and rule quickly in this “expedited case.”
The lawsuit from a group of Florida parents says the governor's order preventing school districts from requiring masks violates Florida’s constitution, which grants power to local school boards to operate, control and supervise classes within their districts.
Michael Abel, defense counsel for DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Board of Education, told Cooper he thinks the lawsuit “exhibits some significant deficiencies as a threshold matter and that we believe would result in dismissal of the case.”
“These are issues involving standing, whether the complaint presents non-justiciable political questions, whether the complaint as framed would seek relief that violates the separation of powers doctrine …”
Cooper gave plaintiffs until noon Tuesday to respond to the defense's motion to dismiss. He said he'd rule on the motion on Thursday. If he denies the motion, he'll hear the case via Zoom on Aug. 23-25, he said.
"This is an expedited proceeding, and this doesn’t mean I’m going to sit around for two or three weeks trying to make my mind up," Cooper said at the hearing. "I'm going to read what you write, I’m going to hear your arguments, I’m going to consider it."
In March, Cooper dismissed a potential class-action lawsuit against the State of Florida and Deloitte Consulting regarding problems with the state’s CONNECT unemployment compensation system, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. Those problems have continued throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Cooper ruled that the lawsuit was barred by the separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches of government, as the newspaper put it.
"I have already ruled extensively on another case on separation of powers," Cooper said during Friday's hearing. "That’s the (Department of Economic Opportunity) unemployment-compensation case. That’s not to tell you that I’m necessarily going to rule the same way. That’s just to let you know that’s how I’ve ruled before."
The current lawsuit was brought by parents who ask the court to remove the governor's limits on mandatory masking for students, who returned to school this week amid increased cases and hospitalizations for COVID-19.
The parents live in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Alachua counties. They claim that it remains unsafe to operate schools in highly populated areas such as Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
DeSantis maintains that school districts should leave it up to parents to decide whether their children wear masks in classrooms. Most Florida districts have left the question of masks optional.
But districts in Orange, Hillsborough and Seminole counties have required students to wear masks, with an opt-out ability for parents, in line with a recent ruling from the Florida Department of Health.
Two Florida school districts have openly defied DeSantis, making masks mandatory for students and providing no opt-out option.
The issue has drawn the attention of the Biden administration, which said this week it was seeking ways to address the governor's order that prevents school districts from mandating masks.
This lawsuit is separate from a suit filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
That suit says children with disabilities remain at elevated risk from COVID-19, and it suggests DeSantis' order prevents children with disabilities from safely returning to school and integrating with other students. It lists 27 plaintiffs, including five in Hillsborough County, four in Pasco County, two in Orange County and two in Volusia County.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.