Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war on his constituents’ health and common sense lost a major battle on Friday. After three days of parents’, teachers’, and physicians’ testimony, 2nd Judicial Circuit Court Judge John C. Cooper ruled that the Florida governor’s executive order preventing school districts from implementing universal mask mandates is unconstitutional. “I conclude that this evidence demonstrates that facemask policies that follow CDC guidance are, at this point in time, reasonable and consistent with the best scientific and medical and public opinion guidance at this time. I am enforcing the bill passed by the legislature and requiring that anyone who uses that bill has to follow all of the provisions, not some of the provisions.”
This comes as a blow to DeSantis’ attempts to emulate his idol, Donald Trump, by using his powerful leadership position to put millions of people’s lives in jeopardy for political gain. The case made in the Tallahassee court by attorney Craig Whisenhunt wasn’t a hard one to make. Whisenhunt, who represented parents in Hillsborough, Orange, and Alachua counties who sued the Florida governor, said, “There can be no rational, reasonable, competent basis to prohibit school boards from complying with expert recommendations from the CDC.”
The Tallahassee Democrat reports that Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna, one of the officials Gov. DeSantis tried to sanction over mask mandates, said he feels vindicated by the Judge Cooper’s decision. "Right now, I’m on cloud nine.”
Judge Cooper also said that lawyers representing DeSantis gave statements that were in opposition to the scientific evidence presented at the trial. Also important was the secondary defense laid out by DeSantis, which was a hasty piece of legislation called the Parent’s Bill of Rights, that DeSantis and other anti-maskers have hoped would give them the Constitutional power against a lawsuit like the one ruled on today. Judge Cooper granted an injunction against the State Board of Education, which was enforcing DeSantis’ executive order, and said that the new Parent’s Bill of Rights law does "not ban mask mandates at all. [...] Parents' rights are very important, but they’re not without some reasonable limitations.”
"We all zealously protect our personal rights," he said. "We can drink until we're intoxicated...but we cannot get in our car and start driving around while we've had alcoholic beverages that impair our ability to drive. We all have the right to drink alcohol, but the driver’s right to drive intoxicated is limited by the government."
"When we talk about absolute and fundamental rights, there’s always a footnote," Cooper added. "Well let’s see if exercising this right harms other people."
Also important to note, Judge Cooper pointed out that DeSantis and his cronies don’t have the right to penalize school boards—a tactic that DeSantis has tried to use to bully educators into complying with his anti-mask mandate. For now, DeSantis is hoping that shadow money and misled MAGA families can help him continue his political ambitions, telling reporters on Thursday, “I know there’s parents who had their rights taken away, who are going to pursue legal action. I think you will see that in some areas.”
Plaintiff attorney Whiswenhunt has consistently pointed out how morally bankrupt DeSantis’ position and, more importantly, actions have been around this issue: "He waited until he could insert a rule and restrict the authority of school boards on the eve of their opening, when they wouldn’t have time to redress their concerns or bring their issues to the court. And as efficient and expedited as this case has been, it has taken us into the school year already. And it could have been litigated and resolved months ago—without the risk and detriment to students."
On Tuesday, Florida said that 16,820 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, down from last week’s record-setting 17,000. Science and the best practices have shown that allowing schools to mandate mask-wearing can help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Cases of COVID-19 have been surging over the past few weeks as the more infectious delta variant becomes the dominant strain of the virus. Very few other places have been hit as hard as Florida, and the terrible policies from Republican officials are directly correlated to higher hospitalization and death rates.
Most schools are in defiance of Gov. DeSantis at this point, as more than half of the students in Florida’s public school are following mask mandates. DeSantis has previously said he would appeal a decision he didn’t like in this case.