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Legality of School Mask Mandates Likely to Remain Hazy

September 2nd, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Judge John Cooper has officially issued his ruling on school mask mandates, but with the state planning an immediate appeal, the mandates’ legality will remain in a state of uncertainty at least for now.

The state has taken the position it can continue imposing sanctions on school districts that don’t provide a parental opt-out as soon as it files for appeal.

Judge Cooper made it clear on Friday, his ruling would block the Department of Education from enforcing a blanket ban on mask mandates, but he also made it clear the ruling wouldn’t take effect until the ink was dry on the written order.

“And this is why. I don’t want confusion out there,” said Cooper.

The Department of Education took the position it could continue sanctioning school boards as the order was being finalized.

The order was officially posted late Thursday afternoon.

“We are fraught in the middle of confusion right now,” said Charles Gallagher, one of the attorneys representing parents suing the state.

Gallagher told us he believes DOE’s actions pending the order were out of bounds.

“I don’t know how one could say they don’t know the import or extent of the oral order rendered last Friday,” said Gallagher.

Attorney General Ashley Moody in an advisory opinion issued earlier this week to Suwannee School District sided with DOE, and told the district it must continue complying with the ban on mask mandates.

“The District must comply with applicable statutes and regulations unless and until the judiciary declares them invalid,” said Moody in the opinion.

Gallagher said parents are considering filing contempt of court sanctions, if the Department of Education continues enforcing the mask mandate ban now that Cooper’s ruling has been filed.

If things seem confusing now, the state has vowed to immediately appeal, which will automatically put Cooper’s ruling on hold.

Moody went on in the opinion to explain once the automatic stay on the ruling was handed down, districts would still be subject to the mask mandate ban.
But Gallahager said parents plan to ask for the ruling to remain in effect as the case makes its way through the appellate court.

“Because of the underlying issues of health and illness and danger to the students in the schools,” said Gallagher.

The final decision on whether Cooper’s ruling is allowed to remain in effect will determine the law of the land for what could be the bulk of the remaining school semester, because the appeals process could take months.

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