A Florida judge gave Gov. Ron DeSantis until Monday to defend his attempts to block mandatory school mask policies against a lawsuit by parents.
Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ordered the state to file a motion to dismiss a complaint brought by parents from several large school districts who argue the state is not allowing school districts to enact mask mandates by allowing parents to opt out. The complaint says the governor's orders and ensuing rules are violating the state constitution by not offering a safe education as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have been rising since July.
Hospitalizations rose slightly on Friday from 15,358 to 15,441 patients with COVID-19, including about 3,200 patients who are in intensive care units. The state has reported an average of 21,375 new cases per day in the past seven days, continuing to reach all-time highs since the pandemic began.
DeSantis has maintained it should be up to parents to decide whether their children will wear masks in classrooms. But with infections from the delta variant surging, some school districts are following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instead. The CDC has issued guidelines recommending masks be worn indoors at schools nationwide.
The lawsuit also states the DeSantis administration is violating the state constitution, which grants power solely to local school boards to operate, control, and supervise classes within their districts. The parents maintain that while it may be safe to operate schools in some areas of the state without masks, it is not safe to do so in “crisis" areas of Florida which includes Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
The parents who brought the lawsuit are from Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Alachua, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties.
In some counties, students and teachers who returned to classrooms only days ago are already under a COVID-19 quarantine.
In Palm Beach County, officials said they ended the second day of classes with 440 students sent home to quarantine because of 51 cases detected among staff members and students.
Orange County's school system reported 333 total cases after classes began this week, with 20 teachers and 39 students still quarantined.
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