Florida parents sue schools over masking
Parents and students take Palm Beach County school district to court
A group of Florida parents and public school students last week sued the School District of Palm Beach County over a COVID-19 mask mandate that flouts state law. Under state rules, school districts are supposed to leave decisions about facial coverings to parents, but some districts have not followed the directive.
In a complaint filed on Oct. 4, 35 parents and 38 students contended that the Palm Beach school district’s policy of requiring all students to wear masks violated the parents’ right to direct the upbringing of their children, infringed on the children’s right to privacy, and ignored how facial coverings have harmed many of the pupils.
In filing the lawsuit, the parents entered an already contentious fray between a handful of Florida school districts, state officials, and the Biden administration. After Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered state health officials to adopt a rule barring districts from overriding parental objections to masks—and threatened to withdraw state funding from those that didn’t comply—the Biden administration sided with the noncompliant school districts by promising to make up their lost funding.
The tit-for-tat continues, with the DeSantis administration moving to further reduce funding and the U.S. Department of Education opening a civil rights probe into whether the loss of funding has violated the rights of students with disabilities.
School officials in Palm Beach County initially complied with the policy by requiring facial coverings but allowing parents to opt out their children for any reason. But after the parents of 11,000 students submitted opt-out letters for their children, the district reversed course and disregarded the letters.
The California-based Pacific Justice Institute, a law firm representing the parents and students, argues that the families deserve relief under the Florida Constitution’s privacy guarantees and the state’s newly passed Parents’ Bill of Rights, which protects “the fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, healthcare, and mental health of his or her minor child.” The law firm also points to adverse physical and psychological effects of masking on some children such as severe anxiety, difficulty breathing, persistent headaches, dermatological issues, and eye infections.
“The Florida Supreme Court has previously ruled that the fundamental right to privacy includes the complete freedom of a person to control their own body,” stated Alexander Bumbu, an attorney for the parents. Bumbu added that a person should not be forced by the government to put something on their face against their will. That argument sounds similar to one accepted last month by a Florida judge who blocked the city of Gainesville’s vaccine mandate for city employees.
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