Florida attorneys begin to plead their case in mask warrant trial
TALLAHASSEE, Florida – Lawyers for Governor Ron DeSantis on Tuesday began calling witnesses to support the state’s argument against allowing school districts to impose mask warrants on students, as a hearing continued in a lawsuit challenging a DeSantis decree.
As the legal battle unfolds, eight school districts voted Tuesday afternoon to require masks for students, except only students whose parents submit doctor notes. Mask mandates in the eight counties cover approximately 1.23 million students, based on state enrollment data for the 2020-2021 school year.
DeSantis issued the order on July 30 in an effort to prevent county school boards from requiring students to wear masks because the delta variant of the coronavirus has caused an increase in COVID-19 cases. The governor argues that parents should be able to decide whether their children wear masks.
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But a group of parents have lodged a complaint, alleging that the decree violates a section of the state’s constitution that requires providing a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system” of public schools. Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper began hearing testimony on Monday and is expected to end on Wednesday.
The hearing began on Tuesday with lawyers for the plaintiffs calling doctors as witnesses, with arguments focusing primarily on the effectiveness of wearing masks in helping the spread of COVID-19.
“It keeps me from sharing my germs with you, and it keeps you from sharing your germs with me. So whether or not I’m vaccinated or whether you’re vaccinated or not, it protects us both,” Mona said. Mangat, allergist and immunologist.
State attorneys subsequently called their first witness, Stanford University professor of medicine Jay Bhattacharya, who testified about the “wrongdoing” of forcing children to wear masks.
“If you look at the pre-COVID literature, it points out that children need to be able to see faces in order to develop in many ways, including social development, emotional development, some evidence on language acquisition. Especially with young children, ”said Bhattacharya.
Bhattacharya also argued that the emergence of the delta variant had not changed his mind about previous statements he had made that masks were not effective in preventing the spread of the disease.
“The delta variant, as I said from the UK (UK) data, is less fatal, possibly more transmissible. There is no randomized evidence, no high quality evidence. that the masks stop the spread of the disease, ”said Bhattacharya.
Lawyers and witnesses for the plaintiffs argued on Monday that the delta variant justifies the requirements for school masks. But Bhattacharya said masks are “orders of magnitude” less effective than vaccines at preventing COVID-19 infections.
The plaintiffs in the case, who name as defendants DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education, claim their children are too young people to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
State attorneys also released a video on Tuesday of a panel discussion hosted by DeSantis, with the participation of Bhattacharya. Bhattacharya participated in several press events organized by DeSantis during the pandemic.
Lawyers representing the parents asked Bhattacharya about his experience as a doctor. Bhattacharya responded that he is doing research full time and has never treated a patient for COVID-19.
The state is expected to call on Wednesday parents who oppose mask warrants to testify.
Meanwhile, a growing number of school districts have set mask requirements in opposition to DeSantis’ order and a resulting Department of Health rule that parents must be able to opt out of warrants.
The Duval County School Board on Monday became the eighth district to approve a mask warrant, with only medical reasons exceptionally allowed. He joined Alachua, Broward, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Leon counties.
State Board of Education Chairman Tom Grady and Vice President Ben Gibson on Friday signed orders threatening to withhold district funds equal to the collective monthly salaries of school board members if districts do not change of cap. The orders were sent to the school districts of Alachua and Broward.
Broward County responded to the state on Tuesday, saying the district would not reverse course despite pressure from the state council.
“In our response, what we told them was that we believe this is an overstepping of their authority, that we are in compliance with the law, and we have respectfully requested that they cancel the ‘order that has been placed on Broward County schools, ”Acting District Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said at a media briefing Tuesday.
In a written response to the State Council on Sunday, Alachua County Superintendent Carlee Simon also upheld the district’s mask policy.