Florida appellate court on Wednesday handed Gov. Ron DeSantis another win in his efforts to block masking mandates in public schools.
Last month, the DeSantis administration appealed a ruling by state Circuit Judge John Cooper, who had sided with parents, and ostensibly local school districts, that fought DeSantis’ executive order implementing a ban on universal masking in schools.
They maintained that DeSantis by blocking such policies put their children at risk, and gutted the home-rule powers of county school boards.
As The Free Press reported last month, the governor’s legal team maintained that Cooper ignored state laws that empower the Florida Department of Health to set healthcare policy.
Cooper also justified his ruling on a new state law, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which allows parents to make medical decisions for their children, which DeSantis’ legal team said was wrong not only because it flipped the purpose of the law on its head, but also because the parents challenging the governor never cited that law in their lawsuit to advocate for universal masking.
DeSantis appealed, and by doing so, froze Cooper’s order until the appellate court could hear the case.
On Wednesday, the appellate judges maintained the block on the lower court’s ruling, saying in its five-page decision that the parents “failed to carry their burden of demonstrating that they are likely to prevail on the merits.”
The court asserted that it had “serious doubts” about whether the parents had the legal authority – known in legal jargon as standing – to sue in the first place.
That pertained to the parents’ assertion that DeSantis was stampeding local school boards.
“Those entities alone must advance their own institutional rights,” the court said. “The appellees are a group of parents and public-school students who suffered no injury from any alleged ‘usurpation’ of authority, so they did not appear to have established an injury in fact that could support standing>
The court also found that the parents likely lacked standing because DeSantis’ executive order did not apply directly to them. “Rather, the order seemed to task state administrative actors with engaging in rulemaking pursuant to statutory authority. … The executive order did not even appear to take any action at all against local school boards themselves.”
Thus, stopping the implementation of the executive order — and not the rule — would not help the parents.
DeSantis, with the order, could not strip the Health Department, which works for him, of its power, which is granted in state laws anyway.
The court also dismissed the parents’ claim that they were protecting all school children by suing. The appellate judges called this a “speculative injury” that could not be addressed by the lower court.
Accordingly, the ruling said, the parents have not demonstrated “any concrete, palpable injury” that would allow them to sue in the first place.
“They nowhere identified the ‘life, liberty, or property’ that they individually were being denied by the executive order,” the ruling stated.
Finally, there was the issue of the Parents’ Bill of Rights.
Nowhere in the lawsuit, the appellate court said, did the parents argue that their rights under that specific law were violated.
On the other hand, Judge Cooper, by citing that law, “abused [his] discretion” by overruling the order “in the face of some clear doubts” about the parents’ chance of “ultimate success.”
DeSantis’ office cheered the appellate ruling.
“The case never should have wasted taxpayer resources by going to trial, and the state defendants only lost in the trial court because the judge surprised everyone with a novel theory that the Parents’ Bill of Rights somehow prevents an expansion of parental rights,” Christina Pushaw, the governor’s spokeswoman, said in a statement.
“While the full appeal is still pending, today’s preliminary ruling shows that the plaintiffs have little chance of saving the trial court’s ruling, so this is a win for Governor DeSantis and parents’ rights in Florida!”
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