An administrative law judge on Friday rejected a challenge to the state Department of Health rule preventing student mask requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The challenge was filed by school boards in Alachua, Broward, Duval, Miami-Dade, Orange, and Leon counties.
The Department of Health signed off on a July 30 executive order by Governor Ron DeSantis that sought to prevent mask requirements before revising and strengthening the ruling to allow the Department of Education to financially penalize those districts that required masks.
Each of the six counties in the challenge received financial penalties earlier this year after placing student mask mandates into effect.
Administrative judge Brian Newman said decisions to opt out of student mask requirements are at the sole discretion of parents or guardians.
“The evidence admitted in this case established that the emergency rule opt-out provisions strike the right balance by ensuring that the protocols that govern the control of COVID-19 in schools go no further than what is required to keep children safe and in school,” Newman wrote in his final order earlier on Friday.
Newman cited the Leon County School Board’s adoption of a policy that allows parents to opt-out of student mask requirements, calling the motion an “indication of safe policy.”
Concurrent with the ruling, Palm Beach County School District lifted its student mask mandate that had been in place since the start of the academic year.
“While I will reinstate a parent facial covering opt-out effective November 15, the metrics will continue to guide my decisions, but barring any unforeseen dramatic reversal of current trends, the community can plan on a return to a parent opt-out on November 15,” Palm Beach County Superintendent Mike Burke said.
School mask mandates continue to be a point of contention between state government officials and school districts, as DeSantis has sought out the prohibition of student mask requirements entirely.
“When you break the law there are consequences,” said Commissioner Richard Corcoran late on Friday. “If these districts continue to break the law, we plan to fully hold them accountable.”