TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper agreed to set aside a stay on his ruling and blocked Florida's mask mandate ban, effective immediately.
Wednesday morning, Judge Cooper heard arguments on a "motion to vacate stay." With the motion to vacate the stay granted, the governor’s ban — requiring districts to offer parental opt-outs or face a financial penalty — is now on hold for at least the duration of a forthcoming court challenge in appellate court.
"There’s no harm to the defendants if the stay is set aside," Judge Cooper said. "That the legislatures already said certain policies can be adopted if they comply with the requirements of the statutes. There’s nothing in my judgment from enforcing the full bill of rights. I’m just saying you can’t enforce part of it, which is what the evidence shows."
The back and forth legal battle began after Judge Cooper found the governor’s ban unlawful last month following a lawsuit brought by pro-mask parents. Cooper ruled a 2021 law, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, protects a district’s choice to install protections like a mask mandate provided it meets certain criteria if challenged.
“It has to be reasonable, support a state purpose, has to be narrowly drawn and not otherwise accomplished by other means,” Cooper said.
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The state immediately filed for an appeal of the decision, triggering an automatic pause on Cooper’s order. The ban and financial penalties were allowed to resume for at least 13 school districts out of compliance.
DeSantis has maintained his executive order and connected administrative rules are lawful. The Republican continues to defend the action as protecting a parent's right to choose what’s best for the health and wellbeing of their children.
“Why don’t we just empower parents,” DeSantis said at a press event last Friday. “Let them make the best decision for their kids and I think it’ll end up working out.”
The Wednesday hearing, brought by plaintiffs, will determine if the pause can be removed as the appeal process runs its course. Attorneys challenging the ban say it would be a major victory as an appeal could last 60 to 90 days.
Cooper has said he plans to decide on the motion upon the conclusion of the day's hearing.
DeSantis' office responded with this comment.
"No surprise here that Judge Cooper concluded that he is unlikely to be overruled on appeal. We (unsurprisingly) disagree. Today we plan to file our emergency motion to reinstate the stay, and we anticipate the appellate court will rule quickly, much like during the school re-opening case last year."