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Legal Fight Over Masks In Schools Continues, As Miami-Dade Superintendent Pledges To 'Do The Right Thing'

The Miami Herald
Pro-mask supporter Kenny Minchu and anti-mask supporter Deidre Ruth argue outside while inside the Broward County School Board holds a hearing to determine if it will impose a mask mandate for the upcoming school year. The meeting was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Aug. 10, 2021.

A state judge in Leon County expects to make a relatively quick decision about mask mandates in schools.

During a largely procedural Zoom hearing Friday afternoon, Judge John Cooper laid out an expedited schedule for considering a legal challenge to an executive order and other new state rules that block school districts from requiring facial coverings.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration will have until Monday to submit a motion to dismiss the case. Then the plaintiffs — parents from all over the state, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — will have until Tuesday to respond. Cooper said he will rule on the motion verbally during a Zoom hearing scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday.

If he doesn’t dismiss the case, he will begin to hear evidence in the case at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 23 — coincidentally, the first day of school in Florida’s largest district, Miami-Dade County.

Earlier Friday, during his annual back-to-school speech, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho stopped short of saying the district will mandate masks for students, but he stressed the decision will be made based on science. The district’s task force of medical advisors will meet Monday at 4 p.m.

“The next couple weeks will be difficult, no matter what steps we take,” said Carvalho, to a sparse and masked audience at Miami Senior High School's auditorium. “There will be condemnation, accusation, demands, threats of consequences for nothing more than attempting to do the right thing. And that’s what we will do: the right thing.”

Meanwhile, the state Board of Education scheduled an emergency conference call at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. An unelected panel with regulatory power, the board will consider how to respond to defiance from local school officials in Broward and Alachua counties. Both districts are moving forward with a mask mandate, in violation of state rules and despite threats to withhold the pay of superintendents and school board members.

The statewide board will then hold a regularly scheduled meeting in Miami on Wednesday afternoon, just hours before the Miami-Dade County school board will be meeting to consider its own reopening plan.

“There is no threat, at least to me, to my paycheck, to my salary, that will force me to abdicate from doing the right thing,” said Carvalho, during Friday morning’s speech.

During the event, Carvalho also encouraged employees and families to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Enough insanity about this,” he said. “It is for the greater good.

“It is not a political statement,” said Carvalho, holding up a mask, “any more than this should ever be a political statement.”

Jessica Bakeman is senior editor for news at WLRN, South Florida's NPR member station. Previously, Bakeman served as WLRN's education reporter for four years. Bakeman was awarded the 2020 Journalist of the Year award from the Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.