Lawsuits brewing over DeSantis ban on mask mandates in schools as state pitches vouchers


At least one lawsuit is expected to be filed Friday, suing Gov. Ron DeSantis over his recent executive order that pledges to pull state funding from school districts that mandate masks.

Six attorneys in Pinellas County have prepared a suit, arguing the state constitution gives school boards the power to make decisions regarding students’ health, according to WTSP.

“The Florida constitution that says local school districts shall determine the health safety and education of local students. This seems to be contrary to that constitutional mandate,” attorney Glen Torcivia, a legal analyst who represents local governments, told CBS 12 News.

Meanwhile, Gov. DeSantis said Thursday he believes the executive order will hold up in court, adding it protects parents rights to choose whether or not to mask their children and works in tandem with the newly passed Parents Bill of Rights.

“Parents have the fundamental right to raise their children, their health and well-being, and that, that has to be respected by the state at all levels of government. And so it’s our belief that this should be a parent’s choice. I think it flows directly from that bill,” DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday.

School boards across the state – including Palm Beach County – expressed concern for their funding after the governor’s recent executive order.

Palm Beach County’s Interim Superintendent Michael Burke told CBS12 News he was initially “leaning in [the] direction” of a mask mandate, given the rise in cases and hospitalizations fueled by the Delta variant. But in a special meeting Wednesday, Burke told school board members the district couldn’t afford to challenge the governors’ order.

“I have no reason to believe at this time a legal challenge [to the executive order] would be successful,” Interim Superintendent Michael Burke said at the meeting. “While I may question the governor’s reasoning, there is no question in my mind that he will use all the powers at his disposal to enforce this order.”

The district’s recent 2021-2022 budget says it will receive $600 million in total funds from the state. Burke expressed concerns that they would not be able to pay their bills if they imposed a mask mandate and funding was cut off.

However, many are questioning if the threat to pull state funding will hold. The governor’s executive order says the state Education Commissioner “shall pursue all legal means available to ensure school districts adhere to Florida law, including but not limited to withholding state funds from noncompliant school boards.”

But Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is proposing the state offer vouchers to parents with children in districts with strict mask requirements. The Florida Board of Education will consider that proposal in an emergency meeting on Friday.

The proposed system would use “hope scholarships,” a program initially created to help kids move to from public schools to private schools because of bullying. If approved for use on masking, the state says the program would work in two ways: allowing parents to move kids out of public schools that require masks or allowing them to move children out of schools with optional mask policies to private institutions that mandate masks,

Officials with the Palm Beach County School District said Thursday its unclear if the voucher program would be in addition to the pledge to pull state funding from districts with a mask mandate, or a change in policy that would allow districts to create their own mask rules.