HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL. – On October 28, a Tampa father filed a pro se lawsuit against Hillsborough County School Superintendent, Addison Davis. The legal complaint addresses the school board’s mask mandate policy.
It is alleged the policy secretly provides no mask-wearing exceptions for students suffering from disabilities and school staff interacting with them.
The crux of the lawsuits’ allegations is that Superintendent Davis has established a mask mandate policy that violates the IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).
Blake Andrew Warner, 38, is the Plaintiff in the case. He spoke with The Free Press regarding why he filed the lawsuit. His stated his son is a Hillsborough County student who suffers from autism and speech disabilities.
Warner said he placed four different public information requests with the school board – three of which were limited in scope that have been ignored. The fourth request to which the school board responded was the most extensive information request containing 70,000 pages of documentation for which the school board wrote it would charge $8,020.
Paying the fee would enable Warner to receive mask mandate and other related e-mails and documents under the Florida Freedom of Information Act. Warner filed the public information requests after trouble with a Division of Administrative Hearing, which must occur before a formal lawsuit can be filed.
During the hearing, the school board refused to turn over mask mandate documents during the discovery process, which compelled Warner to file his public information requests.
“They are refusing to turn over anything related to the mask mandates, which is what the litigation is about – and the judge refused to compel them to do so…the judge gave no reason and just said it was denied. I didn’t want to go to the hearing with no discovery (mask mandate documents) so I went the public records route, and it looks like they’re trying to stonewall to prevent giving the documents until the hearing takes place,” said Warner.
But there is no appeal process for administrative hearings – which would provide Warner with another attempt to receive the school board’s mask mandate documents through a judge and have expected proof of legal mask mandate policy violations.
Knowing this, Warner filed the public information request to attempt to present the documents in subsequent administrative hearings. With the failure of his public information requests, he filed his lawsuit.
Warner believes it’s a foregone conclusion that they violated the Individual’s Disability Education Act and said he believes a lot of his requested documents will prove that, “I deposed one of the administrators and she flat out said – pretty much admitted – that they weren’t in compliance with IDEA which is what all this litigation is about… so they’re trying to deprive me of documents that would solidify that.”
Warner admitted the school did not send his son home when he did not wear a mask but stated his belief that the mask mandate policy is written in violation of IDEA, even though thus far, the school has not enforced the policy as written.
His contention is that he doesn’t know, from day to day, when the school may decide to enforce its erroneous policy, which impedes upon his son’s ability to learn. History indicates Warner has a point when expressing concern the school board may violate current law without notice.
He cited numerous school boards that have violated an earlier law established this year called the Parental Bill of Rights, which Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law on June 29. The law empowers parents with more dictation over their child’s health and education while in school, and Warner said his legal case needs to be addressed to ensure Hillsborough County’s public schools respect his rights. “I want to know what was going on behind closed doors.”
Warner also emphasized he is not demanding that other students and staff remove their masks, but that they must be given the choice to not wear one when working with students with disabilities. His child, he said, largely depends on the opportunity to read lips and interpret facial expressions and emotions.
The Hillsborough County School Board does not comment on pending litigation.
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