Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper has deemed unconstitutional the state’s order to ban local school districts from imposing mandatory facemasks.
Cooper explained his decision in a two-hour announcement from the bench on Aug. 27.
Cooper ruled that school districts can impose mandatory mask mandates, and if challenged, must be granted due process to demonstrate their mask requirement is reasonable.
Taryn Fenske, communications director for Gov. Ron DeSantis, issued this reaction to the ruling: “It’s not surprising that Judge Cooper would rule against parent’s rights and their ability to make the best educational and medical decisions for their family, but instead rule in favor of elected politicians.
“This ruling was made with incoherent justifications, not based in science and facts – frankly not even remotely focused on the merits of the case presented. We are used to the Leon County Circuit Court not following the law and getting reversed on appeal, which is exactly what happened last year in the school reopening case. We will continue to defend the law and parent’s rights in Florida, and will immediately appeal the ruling to the First District Court of Appeals, where we are confident we will prevail on the merits of the case.”
Locally, Judge Cooper’s ruling will have no immediate impact in the Hillsborough or Pasco public school districts.
Hillsborough already has adopted a temporary facemask mandate in its schools which remains in effect through Sept. 17.
The Hillsborough board took that action, despite the governor’s executive order, and subsequent actions taken by the Florida Board of Education and the Florida Department of Education.
DeSantis has stood firm in his position that parents — not local school boards — have the authority to determine whether a student wears a mask in school.
Hillsborough school board members took emergency action to impose a temporary mandatory mask order, with a medical opt-out provision.
In doing so, they joined a number of school districts that defied that order and faced potential financial sanctions.
Cooper enjoined the state from imposing those penalties.
Shortly after Cooper’s ruling, Pasco County Schools issued this statement: “We are aware that Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper has determined that Governor DeSantis’ order banning mask mandates is unconstitutional. At this time the ruling has no impact on Pasco County Schools’ mask-optional policy.
“The Governor’s order remains in effect until the final order is submitted. At that time, the Governor is expected to appeal the decision.
“To summarize: Today’s ruling has no immediate impact on Pasco County Schools. Masks remain optional for students and staff.”
So far this school year, Pasco County Schools has had a combined total of 2,481 student and staff cases, as of the evening of Aug. 27.
As of the same date, that figure stood at a combined total of 5,500 for students and staff in Hillsborough County Schools.
In other pandemic news, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval on Aug. 23 of the Pfizer vaccine for those age 16 and older. The vaccine has emergency use authorization for those age 12 and older.
Experts have said the FDA’s approval could encourage people with vaccine hesitancy to go ahead and get vaccinated.
The pronouncement also could prompt more employers to require employees to get vaccinated.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor has announced that city employees have until Sept. 30 to become vaccinated. Those who do not will need to wear an N95 mask and show weekly results from a COVID test.
Pasco County has decided to use a different approach. It is offering $500 in premium pay to every employee who becomes fully vaccinated by Nov. 1.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that everyone age 12 and older get vaccinated to lessen the chance of becoming infected. While people may become infected, medical experts and scientists have said they are at much lesser risk of hospitalization or death.
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 transmission rate remains high in Florida. Experts attribute that to the infectious delta variant of the disease, which they say is highly contagious.
In the week between Aug. 20 to Aug. 26, Florida recorded 151,749 new COVID-19 cases, with a positivity rate of 16.8%, according to the Florida Department of Health’s website.
Pasco County had 4,433 new cases, with a positivity rate of 21.2%.
Hillsborough County had 11,800 new cases, with a positivity rate of 18.9%.
AdventHealth West Florida Division continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases at its facilities across West Florida and continues to experience a peak of COVID-19 patients, according to an Aug. 27 news release. To date, more than 600 COVID-positive patients are currently hospitalized in the West Florida Division’s 10 hospitals.
AdventHealth Carrollwood, AdventHealth Dade City, AdventHealth North Pinellas, AdventHealth Sebring, AdventHealth Zephyrhills have paused all non-time sensitive and non-emergent procedures.
The hospital chain also has limited visitors at numerous locations, including these in and near The Laker/Lutz coverage area: Dade City, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills, Tampa and Carrollwood. Specifics are available by visiting each hospital’s website.
In other COVID-19 related news, Hillsborough County has issued a news release to inform its water customers that they may notice a temporary change in the taste and odor of their drinking water.
Tampa Bay Water temporarily changed its water treatment process beginning Aug. 26 at its Lithia Hydrogen Sulfide Removal Facility, due to a lack of liquid oxygen deliveries to the facility.
Water provided to Hillsborough County Public Utilities customers will continue to meet all local, state, and federal regulations for drinking water, the news release said.
While consumers may notice a change in taste and odor, the treatment change will not alter the quality of the drinking water, according to the news release.
There is a delivery driver shortage caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the need for available supplies to be diverted to local hospitals, the release explained.
“In addition, Tampa Bay Water is adjusting the regional blend of water sources to accommodate the change in available deliveries of liquid oxygen in the taste and odor,” the release said.
COVID Statistics: Week of Aug. 20 to Aug. 26
New cases: 151,749
New cases: 4,433
Positivity rate: 21.2%
New cases: 11,800
Positivity rate: 18.9%
Cumulative cases, 2021-2022 school year*
Pasco County Schools
2,350 student cases; 491 staff cases
4,563 student cases; 947 staff cases
*As of the evening of Aug. 27
Published September 01, 2021