The SPLC, the Law Offices of Joshua Spector, P.A. and the Education Law Center of New Jersey filed a lawsuit that seeks a hearing before the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings to invalidate an emergency rule under which the state Department of Health prohibits mask requirements in public schools across Florida.
The lawsuit was filed just days after the SPLC and its legal partners filed a separate but similar legal complaint in Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal. The first complaint seeks to quash the mask-related portions of the emergency rule, which was issued in response to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ July 30, 2021, executive order barring school districts from requiring students to wear masks.
The latest petition seeks to protect families’ rights to send their children to free and safe public schools. It argues that the Florida Department of Health went beyond the bounds of its legal authority to issue the emergency rule on Aug. 6, 2021, in violation of the Florida Administrative Procedure Act.
The petition was filed on behalf of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, Florida Student Power Network and several families across Florida with medically vulnerable members who would face severe health challenges – including death – if they were to contract COVID-19 or a variant of the virus.
Petitioners Maya King and her 11-year-old son are both medically vulnerable and would face serious illness or death if they contracted COVID-19, especially the highly transmissible delta variant. Her son, a fifth-grader in Pasco County Schools, suffers from asthma and has permanently damaged lungs.
Because of the emergency rule, Pasco County Schools will not require students to wear masks, even though masks were required and more stringent COVID-19 protocols were in place during the last school year, prior to the surge of the more contagious and deadly delta variant. Despite the lack of these basic protections, all students in the district, including those who do not yet qualify for the vaccine, must attend school in person.
Florida school districts faced penalties from the Florida Department of Education for requiring students to wear masks in defiance of the emergency rule. A state judge in August issued an order blocking the ban on universal facemask requirements, but the ban remained in effect pending an appeal by the state.