In Florida’s ongoing battle over masking mandates in schools, the First District Court of Appeal (DCA) overruled the decision of a Leon County circuit court judge on Wednesday, reinstating the governor’s ban on forced masking in schools. Some Leon County parents are cheering the ruling as a big win for parents’ rights and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Masking Battle

In August, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled that DeSantis exceeded his authority in banning forced masking in public schools.

In September, the First DCA overruled Cooper.

But the following week, Cooper ruled that his order to prevent the state from enforcing school mask mandates should take immediate effect.

On Oct. 27 (pdf), the First DCA again overruled Cooper and emphasized three reasons why his ruling was wrong.

To begin, the First DCA ruled that the case never should have gone to trial because the plaintiffs did not have standing. The plaintiffs, a group of parents and students, could not sue to protect the institutional authority of local school districts and the Florida Department of Health.

“Those entities alone must advance their own institutional rights,” the First DCA wrote.

Second, the plaintiffs were not harmed by DeSantis’ order because the order took no action against them. In fact, all the governor did was direct other state agencies to protect parental rights.

Third, the plaintiffs’ claim of receiving injury because they were exposed to COVID-19 by unmasked students was not “concrete” or “palpable” enough to warrant judicial intervention in public health policy.

Most notable was how the First DCA admonished Cooper for inventing his own legal theory to ultimately rule against the governor’s school mask policy by saying DeSantis somehow violated the Parents’ Bill of Rights by giving parents more rights.

“While the Parents’ Bill of Rights undoubtedly played a role in the governor’s issuance of the executive order—and was even pleaded as an affirmative defense—the [Plaintiffs] never sought relief in their complaint based on an alleged violation of the Parents’ Bill of Rights,” the First DCA wrote. “They certainly never requested an injunction against a state administrative actor proceeding in some way in contravention of the Parents’ Bill of Rights.”

Similar court battles are playing out in other Florida counties. While the full appeal in the Leon County case is still pending, Christina Pushaw, executive press secretary for DeSantis said “the preliminary ruling shows that the Plaintiffs have little chance of saving the trial court’s ruling, so this is a win for Governor DeSantis and parents’ rights in Florida!”

“Florida now has the lowest COVID-19 case rate in the entire country,” Pushaw told The Epoch Times. “Infections statewide have declined more than 90 percent since schools in Florida opened. The rate of decline was the same for districts that had mask mandates and districts that followed state law by allowing parents to choose whether their kids wore masks or not.”

According to the New York Times interactive map, COVID-19 cases in California as of Nov. 4 are nearly three times the rate in Florida per capita. Michigan has about five times Florida’s per capita COVID case rate.

The map for Leon County, Florida, shows a 49 percent drop in the number of hospitalizations in a 14-day average between Aug. 6 and Nov. 4, with a test positivity rate of only five percent.

However, while Orange and Duval Counties imposed more stringent, long-term mask mandates, their numbers are similar, suggesting that masks had little if any effect on the numbers.

“There is no evidence to support the argument that forced-masking in schools had any impact on COVID case rates, pediatric or overall,” Pushaw said further.

Parents Celebrate

“Of course we’re on the way out of the COVID wave,” Priscilla West, a Leon County mom, told The Epoch Times. “Florida’s leadership understood all along that protecting the elderly was the top priority. For everyone else, this thing needed to run its course. Schools never should’ve been closed. Kids never should’ve been masked. Whether or not you believed masks did any good, healthy kids suffer a mild COVID illness. Their young bodies will never be better able to fight it than they are right now. Then they emerge with robust, lasting immunity, which is protective for society as a whole. Children shouldn’t be subjected to experimentation with this new mRNA technology. Schools have no business pushing medical therapies on people’s Minor children.”

Another Leon County mom, LaDonna Wagers, told The Epoch Times: “I have attended and spoke at many Leon County school board meetings this fall. Despite our citing many studies that show masks have no significant effect on virus transmission and actually do more harm than good, the Leon County School board is more interested in ‘feel good’ mask mandates and virtue signaling than science and parental rights. The board also used the National School Board Association and Merrick Garland calling parents who speak out at school board meetings ‘domestic terrorists’ to now have parents who attend these meetings in Leon County go through a security check before entering the building. This will not intimidate us or stop us from continuing to speak out and stand up for our God-given rights of liberty and freedom!”

Sharyn Kerwin, a Leon County mother with two children in the Leon County school system, says she is “thankful for a governor who leads with science and not with fear.

“DeSantis has stood boldly and remained steadfast on his mission to protect the elderly and those at highest risk of serious outcomes from COVID infection while also demanding that we protect Americans’ God-given freedoms which are protected by our constitution,” Kerwin told The Epoch Times. “Parents have a right to decide what’s best for their child’s medical and mental health. DeSantis knows this and our legislators supported this by passing the Parental Bill of Rights into law. I will never stop fighting for my children and my God-given authority to make decisions that are in their best interest!

Nathan Newell, a father with four children in the Leon County school system, told The Epoch Times: “With all the scientific evidence available that shows the average mask is not effective, it is a shame school boards and governors are playing politics with our children’s well-being.”

Brandi Andrews, a Leon County mother with two children in the Leon County School System, told The Epoch Times: “It has been very troubling to watch our local school board defy the governor and parents’ rights. The CDC recently confirming Florida now has the lowest COVID rates per capita in the United States goes to show masks don’t work being our state has a ban on masks/vaccines thanks to our great governor. I hope our school board will see the light since we finally don’t have to mask our children up for school every day and the COVID positive numbers have remained at bay.”

Stephanie Henningsen of Leon County told The Epoch Times that parents “knew, as soon as local school officials imposed their illegal mask mandate upon students, they would ultimately try and claim the victory when the virus numbers inevitably bottomed out.

“The thing is, numbers were already beginning to decline at the time they dictated their mandate and when one compared the data among schools that were unmasked compared to Leon County schools there was no significant difference in positive case percentages. The mandate was baseless and more about control and cashing in on the Biden reimbursement promise which ended up backfiring.

“The forced masking of children is a form of child abuse and an overreach of local and state governments. Every parent should have a choice on what they deem healthy or not for their children; it’s their God-given right. Teachers and County School Boards should stay within the lanes of the authority they have, focusing on what is within their job description: educating children in regards to math, science, English, and history.”

Ashley Crosby told The Epoch Times that the Leon County superintendent and members of the school board “have dedicated a ridiculous amount of time, effort, energy, and local tax paying dollars to act as tyrannical dictators over the matter of masking children, which is completely outside of their jurisdiction.”

“Too many children have suffered mentally, emotionally, and educationally at the hands of these people. It’s a shame that rather than being passionate about assisting these children overcome the setbacks that occurred in the school system in the last year, they have rabidly and passionately pursued any means necessary to not let parents have a choice on whether they want their child to wear a mask or not. The health and well-being of the children should be left up to each individual family, and it has been a blessing to have our Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, understand the significant difference in the role of teacher/school boards and parents, defending parents’ rights to make their own informed decisions.”

Leon County mom Denee Williams told The Epoch Times that many of the parents who have been attending school board meetings for months expected Cooper to come back with a biased ruling. However they also knew the ruling would not stand because the law, and DeSantis, is on their side.

“We were pleased to see that the First Circuit Court ruled in favor of parental rights,” Williams said. “Governor DeSantis has consistently stood as a barrier between liberal politicians who would strip Florida parents of their rights to make the best medical decisions for their families. Parents know best and we do not appreciate these liberal leaders attempting to take decisions out of our hands as if they know better.”

Williams further said she is not surprised to know Florida has the lowest COVID-19 rate per capita in the United States.

“Our numbers are low because our great governor has made common-sense decisions and refused to be bullied and also refused to make fear-based decisions,” she explained. “He is using the data available and making common-sense decisions and not caving to the liberal narrative that we should all stop living out of fear of this virus. Florida is open and thriving. I look around the country at these blue states and I think how thankful I am to live here in this great state.”

Who Gets Credit

While some media try to downplay the governor’s role in the plummeting COVID-19 numbers, and others try to credit the fall in numbers to masking and vaccines, some Leon County parents attribute Florida’s COVID-19 success entirely to DeSantis.

Crosby said her children attend a private, Christian school in Leon County and that the school board voted to allow parents to have a choice on whether or not they wanted to mask children. Thus far, Crosby said the overwhelming majority of children are unmasked, with “maybe one in 50” wearing a mask. “No teachers wear masks, and we have had a fantastic school year with no major outbreaks or problems,” Crosby said. “So in regards to Democrats or School Boards claiming low case numbers are due to masking, it’s simply not true. They have no science or evidence to prove that, and our school has done no masking since the beginning of August and we have had a normal year with no hiccups.”

Williams said “hearing some Democrats try to claim credit that the falling COVID numbers are due to a handful of counties in Florida defying Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order and requiring masks on our students is short-sighted. First, the vast majority of counties did not force masks on their students and the numbers still fell in those counties as well. Second, many children who were forced into masks at school did not wear them outside of school at sporting events or to hang with friends. The claim that forced masking did the trick is a false narrative that I believe most people see right through. It’s laughable, honestly.”

Patricia Tolson
Patricia Tolson is an award-winning political columnist and investigative reporter who has worked for such news outlets as Yahoo! U.S. News and The Tampa Free Press. Her focus is covering political events and developments throughout the southeastern United States, which may have an impact on the nation as a whole.

November 5, 2021 4:52 pm

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