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Florida judge orders immediate lifting of DeSantis ban on school mask mandates

Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper would not stay his order to lift the ban until an appeal could be heard.

A judge on Wednesday ruled that Florida must immediately stop enforcing Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in schools, refusing to issue a stay as the state appeals his decision.

Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper argued that the state had failed to prove that an appeal would be successful and that delaying his order was necessary to avoid irreparable harm.

The state is challenging the ruling with the state's 1st District Court of Appeals.

"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 governor's office disagrees with Cooper's assessment that the appeal will likely fail, Taryn Fenske, the governor's communications director, said in an emailed statement.

"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," Fenske said.

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not issued approval for children under the age of 12 to be vaccinated.

DeSantis issued an executive order banning mask mandates in schools and threatened consequences for districts that defy the order. In August, the Florida Board of Education voted to penalize the Alachua and Broward county public school districts for imposing mask mandates.

Cooper ruled last month that school districts have the right to set policies, like mask mandates, as long as they have “compelling state interest” and have a “narrowly tailored” plan of action.

DeSantis has also come out against “vaccine passports” — the idea that someone must show proof of vaccination as a requirement to be allowed into events or businesses. He also lost in federal court last month after trying to ban vaccine mandates from cruise lines.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams, of the state's southern district, ruled that the Norwegian Cruise Line would be "irreparably injured" by the state prohibition, leaving it no way to ensure that thousands of passengers who will remain in close quarters for days have been vaccinated. The ruling was preliminary and will remain in effect as the company pursues a permanent ruling.

August was Florida’s deadliest month since the pandemic began last year, according to Covid-19 data collected by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Pediatric hospitalizations have also increased as the delta variant seems to affect children more than previous versions of the coronavirus.