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After a three-day hearing, Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled in favor of the group of Florida parents who alleged DeSantis’ order banning mask mandates is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

In addition, the governor's order contradicts CDC recommends universal mask wearing in schools.

While Citrus County opted out of a mask mandate for the 2021-22 school year, at least 10 Florida school districts voted to defy DeSantis’ order.

Get more from the Citrus County Chronicle

Meanwhile, between Aug. 10 and Aug. 26, the Citrus County School District has recorded 570 cases among staff and students.

Despite the governor’s argument that parents should have authority to oversee health decisions for their children, Cooper said mask requirements falls within the scope of government exemption for actions needed to protect public health.  

For example, Cooper said adults have the right to drink alcohol, but not to drive drunk and people have free speech, but cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater.

Citrus County School Board member Thomas Kennedy said this ruling does not bring a legal conclusion. Before the ruling, both parties said they would appeal.

“There’s much legally to play out,” Kennedy said.

Thomas Kennedy

Thomas Kennedy

Citrus County School Board member Sandy Counts said she was glad Cooper acknowledged that local school boards should decide what’s best for their school, and there may be a difference among large and small counties.

“I don’t want people focused on just the masks,” Counts said. She hopes the district can focus on other measures like social distancing, hand sanitizing and consider closing water fountains. “We can reframe.”

Counts encourages parents and families to talk to their doctors about COVID-19 related health decisions such as vaccinations.

“Make a decision not based on politics,” Counts said.

Sandy Counts MUG (File)

Sandy Counts

In addition, Counts said Citrus seems to be experiencing a growing issue with children coming to school sick.

With about 70% of children on free and reduced lunch, “their parents have to work,” Counts said. Staying home with a sick child is not an option for many.

Counts suggested soliciting the help of local daycares and churches to watch sick children during the school day.

“We can’t have sick kids in our school,” she added.

Citrus County School Board member Ginger Bryant said the board will discuss the issue further at their next meeting.

“I know it’ll be on the agenda,” she said.

Ginger Bryant mug

Ginger Bryant, school board member

For the most up-to-date statistics in Citrus County schools and a school-by-school breakdown, visit the COVID-19 Dashboard at citrusschools.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Hannah Sachewicz is a reporter for the Chronicle. She can be reached at 352-564-2929 or hannah.sachewicz@chronicleonline.com.

(4) comments

NancyTomaselli

The legal conclusion released by the judge said school boards may impose mask mandates and the government cannot levy penalties against them. Between 8/10 and 8/26, 570 children and adults the Citrus County school district have contacted covid which comes out to 35 persons a day. School board member Bryant said we will be talking about this at the next meeting. This is a crisis, this is an emergency; this should be discussed immediately. Everyday you wait another 35 persons or more based on your statistics will contact covid. Masks must be included with the other mitigation techniques. The fact that your numbers are so large is proof that mitigation techniques without mask wearing will lead to sicknesses and potentially death. It is the responsibility of the school board to follow the recommendations of the CDC and ensure that all children are wearing masks on the school bus and at school to protect them.

AllLivesMatter

Masks undermine the health of young children and others according to various studies.. Masks should be an option not a forced mandate. This is America not Communist China, lest ye forget...

JAYMIEA

Agreed. If these parents want their kids to wear a mask, then let them, BUT don’t make everyone wear one who does not want too. That is their constitutional right not too. Joe hasn’t turned us in to a communist country YET.

MikeBond

Parents already have a choice, it's called Home Schooling. Not wearing a mask is NOT a constitutional right.

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