Florida Judge Clears Way for Challenge to Florida’s Mask Mandate Ban


A decision by Florida Department of Administrative Hearings Judge Brian Newman cleared a path for six Florida school districts to challenge the Florida Department of Health’s rule against a mask mandate ban. The counties included in the challenge are: Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Duval, Alachua, and Leon counties.

The challenge stems from a July executive order where Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned mask mandates in Florida’s schools. Numerous school districts moved to defy DeSantis’ order and impose mask mandates, instead. As a result, the Florida Board of Education opted to withhold salaries from school boards that defied the mask mandate ban.

As the Florida Department of Health (DOH) ushered in the new Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, he issued a new set of COVID-related rules hoping to stave off the legal challenge to the newly minted DOH rule banning mask mandates.

Attorneys for the state have cited “public official standing doctrine” as reasoning to dismiss the challenge. The doctrine says school boards cannot challenge laws and rules they are legally required to follow. Newman rejected the premise.

“Respondent (the department) has not cited any case that holds that the public official standing doctrine applies in rule challenge proceedings brought pursuant to (a section of the state’s Administrative Procedure Act) or that any other law prevents a public official (or unit of government) from challenging a rule that substantially affects it in this administrative forum. Indeed, there have been many rule challenges initiated by governmental entities heard here at the Division of Administrative Hearings. None of them were dismissed at any stage based on the public official standing doctrine or the assertion that governmental units are not authorized to challenge a rule under (the Administrative Procedure Act).”

The DOH has frequently referenced the “Parental Bill of Rights”, signed by DeSantis this year, as reasoning for their decision to issue the rule. However, the school districts have said the DOH’s legal authority only extends to rules relating to immunizations and controlling diseases, and not enforcing parental rights.

“Although it is titled ‘Protocols for Controlling COVID-19 in School Settings’ and enacted solely pursuant to the DOH’s (the department’s) limited rulemaking authority to control communicable diseases, the DOH rule challenged in this petition is actually focused not on controlling COVID-19 but rather on protecting parental rights,” the challenge said. “The DOH does not have rulemaking authority in this area, and thus exceeded its rulemaking authority.”

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Grant Holcomb is a reporter at The Florida Capital Star and The Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips. 




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