Federal judge rules in favor of Gov. DeSantis’ mask mandate ban

The federal court comes a week after a state appeals court similarly backed the Florida mask mandate ban.

A federal judge this week handed Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis another legal victory on his mask mandate ban for schools.

On Wednesday, Judge K. Michael Moore of the Southern District of Florida denied a petition from a group of parents to block a recent order by DeSantis that effectively nullifies masking requirements imposed by school districts.

DeSantis’ executive order directed state agencies to develop COVID policies that would “protect parents’ right to make decisions regarding masking of their children in relation to COVID-19.” Days later, the Florida Department of Health (FDH) announced a rule instructing public schools to allow parents opt their children out of mask mandates.

Eleven parents of children with alleged health issues sued the DeSantis administration last month asking for a preliminary injunction against the governor’s order, which they said violates state and federal non-discrimination laws.

Judge Moore rejected that request in his decision on Wednesday, however, noting that the parents did not pursue administrative options with their children’s schools first, as is required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

“Plaintiffs are required to exhaust their claims under the IDEA before proceeding in federal court,” Moore wrote. “Their failure to do so weighs heavily against finding that Plaintiffs’ claims are likely to succeed on the merits.”

The judge added that the DeSantis administration has “raised legitimate concerns with respect to Plaintiffs’ standing in this case.” He cited the fact that the plaintiffs did not name the Florida Department of Health in their lawsuit, making it “unclear whether the relief sought by Plaintiffs would actually provide redress to any of Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.”

Moore also noted that some of the plaintiffs’ children have continued attending in-person classes with or without mask mandates. All of the children reportedly have access to virtual learning options, and “there has been no allegation that any of Plaintiffs’ schools have denied Plaintiffs educational opportunities altogether,” Moore wrote.

Judge Moore’s ruling allows the DeSantis administration to continue pursuing sanctions on thirteen Florida school districts that have rejected the FDH masking guidance. The Florida Department of Education has so far fined two of the districts, Alachua and Broward, docking salaries of school board members who approved the illegal mask mandates.

The latest court victory for Gov. DeSantis follows several lower court rulings in recent weeks on his executive order.