Attorney for parents who sued Florida governor over executive order banning mask mandates in schools

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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, especially in places like Florida.

Current COVID-19 numbers in Florida

Here are some of the latest coronavirus numbers, from the Sunday Tampa Bay Times: Florida officials reported nearly 152,000 positive coronavirus infections over the week that ended Thursday, averaging almost 21,700 infections per day.

During the third week back in school, children led the state in new infections. COVID-19 cases increased by 28 percent among Floridians 19 and under, who now account for one-third of new infections. Florida has had nearly 3.2 million positive coronavirus cases during the pandemic and nearly 44,000 deaths. The state added 1,727 deaths last week. It’s the highest number reported in a single week.

According to the state, as of Thursday, 68 percent of Florida residents age 12 and up have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. About 56 percent of eligible residents have been fully vaccinated. But 41 percent of Florida’s total population is unvaccinated, including children 11 and under who are not eligible.

Florida’s positivity rate fell to 16.8 percent in the past week, down from 19.8 percent the week before. Positivity rates were highest among 12 to 19-year-olds, with 23.1 percent of their coronavirus tests coming back positive.

Mask mandates in Florida schools

Several school districts across the state have tried to protect children from infection by enacting mask mandates in schools, defying an executive order by Governor Ron DeSantis. But that order was ruled illegal on Friday by a Leon County judge. The judge ruled that The state cannot punish school districts for implementing mask mandates with medical opt-outs. DeSantis’s evidence for banning mandates wound up losing the case for him.

Contrary to the judge’s order, Florida’s Secretary of Education, Richard Corcoran, “withheld monthly salaries from board members in Alachua and Broward counties who supported the mask requirements, marking a major turning point in the weekslong fight over face coverings in schools.” That’s according to Politico.

On Monday, DeSantis said he would appeal the judge’s ruling.

According to Axios, as of Monday, “Tampa Bay school districts from Citrus to Sarasota had reported nearly 17,000 confirmed COVID cases among students and staff — a milestone that took months longer to reach last school year.”

The judge ruled against Florida governor’s executive order banning mask mandates in schools

The judge, John Cooper, spoke for a long time on Friday to explain his ruling. Judge Cooper slammed DeSantis and his legal team for their interpretation of the science about how masks protect children and the rest of the community.

The judge’s ruling paved the way for boards in Brevard, Charlotte, Lee, Lake, Volusia, and Osceola Counties to call meetings to talk about mask policies. At least two of them — Brevard and Lee — instituted mask mandates Monday.

According to the Florida Phoenix, “Florida is one of only five states that has not submitted a state plan for COVID relief to the U.S. Department of Education, holding up billions in federal funds to help the Florida education system recover from the impacts of COVID-19 in schools. These funds could be used to address learning loss among students due to an irregular school year, ensure safe and sanitary schools as COVID remains a threat in [the] classroom, and provide mental health services to help students deal with the trauma of learning through a pandemic.”

On Monday, the federal government announced that it’s “investigating five Republican-led states that banned mask requirements because those policies could mean discrimination against students who have disabilities or health issues,” according to Axios. Florida isn’t one of them now.

Masks in Pinellas County Schools

The ruling by the judge sets up an interesting situation in Pinellas County. According to Axios, the swing vote to keep masks optional there was a board member who wanted mandatory masks but didn’t want to “break the law.”

WMNF invited a Pinellas School Board member on the show Tuesday, but she couldn’t make it because they’re involved in training.

For now, masks remain optional in Pinellas County Schools. Last Tuesday the Pinellas School Board voted against holding a special meeting to discuss instituting a mask mandate. That was before a judge rebuked governor DeSantis’ executive order against mask mandates.

One of the attorneys who represented Florida parents in their lawsuit against the governor

WMNF spoke with a lawyer who represented parents who defeated Florida’s governor in court in a fight over mask requirements in schools. Charles R. Gallagher III, an attorney in St. Petersburg.

“Maybe late today [Tuesday], maybe tomorrow, maybe midday tomorrow, there’d be a signed order. As soon as that order is signed, I would expect the State to file a notice of appeal.

“Thereafter, as quickly as that’s filed, we’re going to file a motion to vacate the Appellate Court stay’s effect of the trial court order.

“And so what will that basically mean, kind of lay terms is, when they file their appeal, the appellate court has jurisdiction over it, and that order is kind of frozen, so to speak.

“We’re going to ask the trial court to ensure that the order stays in place, pending the appeal’s resolution, so that there’s protection during this whole time. And we’re hopeful the court will consider that, and grant that motion to vacate the stay so that we can keep that protection in place for school boards.

“Thereafter, there would be a full-on appeal with briefs, probably an oral argument, and a whole longer time-frame schedule the quick trial and filing that we had to date.”

Listen to the full show here.

Watch the interview here:

Update: the judge’s written order came out Thursday September 2, 2021: