Schools and COVID

South Florida Parents Heading to Court in Fight Over School Mask Mandates

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Some parents in South Florida who are frustrated over the issue of mandating mask usage in schools say the only way to protect their kids is go to to court.

"We have no idea what to do. We are super stressed out. We can’t sleep at night,” said parent Robyn McCarthy.

Robyn McCarthy and John McCarthy are just two South Florida parents in court fighting Gov. Ron DeSantis' order prohibiting any mask mandates. Their son, who is six and heading into the first grade in Miami-Dade, has asthma.

"It should not be a choice between education and our son’s life. That’s not acceptable," Robyn McCarthy said.

Their legal action aims at getting a judge to rule that the DeSantis order preventing local schools from having mask mandates is illegal.

"Keeping our son out of school isn’t an option either. He needs to be with other students but he needs to be safe and we want our child in school but safe with people who are following the science,” John McCarthy said.

Disability attorney Matthew Dietz represents the McCarthy’s and other families. Dietz wants a federal judge to issue an injunction to prevent the governor’s order from being enforced.

"It is our obligation to ensure that these kids are not excluded from school," Dietz said. "When it comes to children with disabilities it's even harder for them. "They will suffer irreparable injury not only with issues involving long Covid, but issues, just basic issues about surviving and breathing and things that we take for granted.”

DeSantis has argued that parents should be the ones to decide whether their kids wear masks in school.

On Wednesday, the governor wasn’t backing down as the state officially notified Broward it has to change its mind about its mask mandate.

"There is no room for error or leniency when it comes to ensuring compliance with policies that allow parents and guardians to make health and educational choices for their children," Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran wrote in a letter to Broward school officials.

Robyn McCarthy, who is also an attorney, said she was especially surprised when learning of the governor’s order.

"I couldn’t believe that the governor was outreaching his power in such a manner,” she said.

Florida International University law professor Ediberto Roman said the parents have a strong case because of what can happen if a child does become ill from Covid, especially a youngster with medical conditions putting them more at risk.

"I think actually their cases are pretty strong in this context," Roman said. "Obviously, exposing children, right, particularly those who are at risk to the coronavirus would be a classic case of irreparable harm and in all likelihood an injunction would be issued."

Roman said that the governor’s loss in federal court earlier this week when Judge Kathleen Williams ruled in favor of Norwegian Cruise Lines in regards to vaccinations could be a prediction of what happens with the prohibition on mask mandates.

The parents are making some of the same technical legal claims as Norwegian did about the harm that could come to those exposed to the virus and in Norwegian’s case, it's business, harm they say that can’t be reversed.

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