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Florida State Conference of NAACP, et al., v. Florida Department of Health (court order petition)

After the Florida Department of Health filed an emergency rule that barred school districts in the state from requiring students to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Law Offices of Joshua Spector, P.A. filed a legal complaint.

The petition was filed in Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal on behalf of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and families in Palm Beach County with medically vulnerable members who would face severe health challenges – including death – if they were to contract COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the use of masks in schools to significantly reduce the spread of virus-laden droplets.

The petition seeks a court order invalidating the mask-related portions of the emergency rule under the Florida Administrative Procedure Act. The act outlines the criteria that state agencies must follow to circumvent the normal rulemaking process to issue an emergency rule. Chief among these requirements is that the rule must be “necessary” to address “immediate danger to the public health, safety, or welfare.”

However, the Florida Department of Health’s rationale for the emergency rule is nonsensical. The agency stated that it was issuing the Aug. 6, 2021, emergency rule because a recent increase in COVID-19 infections coincides “with the imminent start of the school year,” making it “imperative that state health and education authorities provide emergency guidance to school districts.”

Yet, the increase in COVID-19 infections, largely driven by the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus, makes it more – not less – important for schools to require masks.

The agency issued the emergency rule in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ July 30, 2021, executive order that bars school districts from requiring their students to wear masks in school. In it, he directed the agency to issue regulations in accordance with the order.