Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration was granted approval Friday to keep in place an order banning mask mandates in schools while the measure moves through an appeals court.
"When a public officer or agency seeks appellate review, which is the case here, there is a presumption under the rule in favor of a stay, and the stay should be vacated only for the most compelling of reasons," said an order from the 1st District Court of Appeal. "Given the presumption against vacating the automatic stay, the stay should have been left in place pending appellate review."
The most recent decision in the back-and-forth legal battle means schools can be penalized for enforcing mask mandates to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
DeSantis has 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 sanction the Alachua and Broward county public school districts for imposing mask mandates.
But Leon County Circuit Judge John C. 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.
On Wednesday, Cooper had ruled that Florida must immediately stop enforcing DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in schools, refusing to issue a stay as the state appeals his decision.
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.
"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.”
Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not issued approval for children under the age of 12 to be vaccinated.
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.