Legal experts question DeSantis’ ban on schools’ face mask mandates in Florida

MIAMI – The face mask mandates controversy returned to Florida just as the Delta variant presents a new surge in hospitalizations and deaths.

The Florida Constitution clearly gives county school districts and boards the authority to operate, control and supervise public schools in the area. This authority was especially effective on issues of public health at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Attorney Ronald “Ron” Meyer, of Tallahassee, is among the legal experts in South Florida, who said Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to ignore this on Friday when he signed the Ensuring Parents’ Freedom to Choose-Masks in Schools executive order.

“The governor once again in my view has overreached his authority,” Meyer said.

DeSantis, a Republican who shares many of former President Donald Trump’s views, has been opposed to mandates on face mask use and vaccines against COVID saying these are an attack on civilians’ freedom to choose. The trouble is public health experts believe the spread of the deadly virus depends mostly on human behavior and studies show face masks are more effective when more people use them.

Florida governors have the power to enact orders in times of emergency. Critics have said DeSantis, 42, has used this power throughout the pandemic to protect freedoms and not public health because he is prioritizing his political ideology in an effort to win re-election next year and a GOP presidential nomination in 2024.

“You shouldn’t be asking parents who have a legitimate health concern for their children to send their kids to school even with a mask if the bulk of the children in their classroom are unmasked,” Meyer said.

The coronavirus outbreaks have been larger in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Health experts for the districts took into account the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to enforce face mask use among those who are and are not vaccinated. Before DeSantis signed the order, the School Board of Broward County voted in support of a face mask mandate.

“The school board has an obligation to protect the safety and health of their children,” Attorney David Weinstein, of Miami, said about the district’s increased liability with the ban.

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.