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Duval, other school districts appeal after judge rules against them in student mask fight with Florida

The districts argued the Department of Health didn't have the authority to issue rules about parental choice.
Lynne Sladky
The districts argued the Department of Health didn't have the authority to issue rules about parental choice.

A Tallahassee judge has ruled against Duval and five other school districts in their fight to require masks for students during the pandemic. The districts appealed the ruling immediately on Friday.

Attorneys for the local districts had argued the state’s Sept. 22 rule requiring parent opt-outs for mask and quarantine requirements contributes to the spread of COVID rather than slowing it. The judge said they didn’t provide enough evidence to prove that.

“On the contrary, the evidence admitted in this case established that the Emergency Rule Opt-Out provisions strike the right balance by ensuring that the protocols that govern the control of COVID-19 in schools go no further than what is required to keep children safe and in school,” Newman wrote.

The districts had also argued the state’s Department of Health exceeded its rulemaking authority by requiring parent opt-outs for mask and quarantine requirements, but the judge again sided with the state.

“Although there was no hearing on the Emergency Rule 14 before it was adopted, the process is fair under the circumstances because COVID-19 presents an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare and because COVID-19 protocols must adapt to changing COVID-19 case data,” Newman wrote.

Duval Schools filed the suit along with the other five districts as its own rule said students had to wear masks unless they had a medical opt-out, but Duval started allowing parent opt-outs this week, for any reason, as COVID cases fell countywide.

Still, Duval School Board members said this case was never just about masks — it was about local control.

“It’s not about the politics of this moment today,” School Board Chair Elizabeth Andersen said before voting to authorize the legal challenge in September. “It’s much more about preserving our authority to educate, teach, learn and keep kids safe in Duval County Public Schools.”

The districts are appealing in the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach.

Claire joined WJCT as a reporter in August 2021. She was previously the local host of NPR's Morning Edition at WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. During her time in East Tennessee, her coverage of the COVID pandemic earned a Public Media Journalists’ Association award for investigative reporting. You can reach Claire at (904) 250-0926 or on Twitter @ClaireHeddles.