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DeSantis files emergency appeal after judge says Florida must allow school mask mandates

Gov. Ron DeSantis filed the new appeal after a court struck down his ban on schools' requiring masks to halt the spread of Covid.
Image: Students return to school in Miami, Florida
Students wearing masks arrive for classes on the first day of school in Miami-Dade County at Barbara Goleman Senior High School in Miami on Aug. 23.Marco Bello / Reuters

Gov. Ron DeSantis filed an emergency appeal Wednesday night to try to block a judge's order that would allow Florida school districts to begin mandating masks to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled Aug. 27 that DeSantis' ban on mask mandates was unlawful. The state quickly appealed, triggering an automatic stay of the ruling. On Wednesday afternoon, Cooper refused to continue the automatic stay and ruled that Florida must immediately lift the ban during the appeals process.

Cooper said the state had failed to prove that an appeal would be successful and failed to prove that delaying his order was necessary to avoid irreparable harm.

"We are not in normal times. We are in a pandemic. We have children that can't be protected by vaccination," Cooper said in court, according to NBC Miami. "Children are at risk and they provide at least some protection by masking."

The 41-page emergency appeal asks the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal to intervene and reinstate the automatic stay of Cooper's ruling, pending completion of the broader appeal.

"The adequate level of safety in schools and other public settings is a political question reserved entirely for elected representatives who are publicly accountable," the emergency appeal said.

Taryn Fenske, DeSantis' communications director, said in an emailed statement Thursday: "No surprise here that Judge Cooper concluded that he is unlikely to be overruled on appeal.

"We (unsurprisingly) disagree. Yesterday we filed 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."

DeSantis, who has made mandates in educational settings a defining political issue in Florida, banned mask requirements for students in July.

That prompted a lawsuit by parents, leading to Cooper's ruling last month striking down the ban. DeSantis appealed, arguing in court that the ruling violated the new Florida Parents' Bill of Rights.

Deaths in Florida attributed to Covid-19 hit a record high last month, a month after the state set back-to-back records for daily numbers of Covid cases.

According to an NBC News tracker, Florida has recorded 46,977 Covid deaths and over 3.3 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

Doha Madani contributed.