One of the hottest political issues related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been the requirement that schools have their students in masks. Many states - including Florida and Texas - have gone as far as to either pass legislation or issue executive
Thus far, states that have had their mask bans be challenged have not done well in court, with separate decisions in Florida and Texas striking down mask bans.
Mask bans in Florida and Texas
Both conservative states joined many in banning mask mandates in schools.
In Florida, Governor DeSantis ordered that mask mandates not be enforced in schools, specifically saying that "there will be consequences" for schools that attempted to enforce blanket mask mandates in schools. DeSantis even went as far as to say that he would withhold funding for schools that required students to wear masks, while also allowing the Florida Board of Education to provide private school vouchers to parents that would enable these parents to remove their students from schools that required masks.
This didn't stop at least ten school districts - including some of the largest in the state - from defying DeSantis and ordering a mask mandate.
In Texas, Governor Abbott also issued a similar ban, saying that school districts cannot require that students wear masks. While Abbott has not gone quite as far as DeSantis in exacting punishment on school districts that attempt to circumvent the ban, the ban could still have major repercussions on students and teachers alike in Texas.
The court decisions
In Florida, a group of parents sued DeSantis and Florida, alleging that he had overstepped his authority in stopping mask mandates in schools. A five-day trial was held in front of Judge John Cooper. At the conclusion of the trial, Judge Cooper sided with the parents, noting that DeSantis had overstepped his authority and finding that mask mandates that were in line with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and scientific community were both legal and enforceable. Specifically, Judge Cooper found that DeSantis was ignoring laws that allowed for school districts to take actions that pushed for a "compelling state interest," and that in this case, mask mandates helped to keep students safe.
The Judge also said he would stop any funding cessations via an injunction.
In Texas, a Travis County judge ruled with parents who sued to overturn the mask ban. Judge Catherine Mauzy specifically said that Abbott's ban was unlawful and violated the Texas State Constitution. However, as this is a county decision - not a state one - the applications are more limited. It will apply to the nineteen school districts in Travis County, as well as Austin Community College.
Interestingly, this ruling seems to conflict with the spirit of a ruling the day before from the Texas Supreme Court. That ruling blocked the city of San Antonio from enforcing a mask mandate but did not directly impact schools.
In Florida, Governor DeSantis has vowed that he will appeal the decision. Indeed, he actually made this statement before the decision was even reached.
In Texas, a slew of other school districts are considering mask mandates, directly in defiance of Abbott's orders. Additional lawsuits are also coming from the parents of children - and particularly immuno-compromised children - who say that the ban on mask mandates means that these students will be unable to attend school and thus deprived of a critical state resource and education. These court rulings will likely soon wind their way through the court system. A variety of other educational advocates, including groups that represent teachers, are stepping forward to support these lawsuits.
Mask bans are currently in effect in a variety of other schools, including Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah. On the flip side, masks are currently required in schools in sixteen other states, including California and New York. Given that masks and COVID-19 responses have become one of the most hotly contested issues of the modern political era, it seems doubtful that this issue will abate any time in the near future.
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