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LCS and Florida DOH fight heads to court

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 9:37 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - On Thursday, the legal battle between Florida’s local school districts and the Florida Department of Health officially began in court.

A state judge heard arguments on both sides of the case, which LCS has brought forth to challenge the DOH’s emergency COVID ruling.

The DOH’s ruling, put out last month, requires parental opt-outs for masking and makes quarantining optional for asymptomatic students.

Leon County joined five other school districts in a lawsuit against the DOH, arguing that each district should be able to dictate its own COVID policies, instead of following a state-wide procedure.

The case before the judge is not about whether masks are effective or whether students should be required to quarantine if they’re exposed. Rather, the question is, ‘Does the Florida Health Department have the authority to dictate these COVID policies for local school districts?’

The first round of testimony was heard on Thursday.

“The governor has a lot of attorneys in there. But this is worth the fight,” said LCS Superintendent Rocky Hanna.

Hanna argues that local school districts should be able to set their own COVID policies.

But attorneys on behalf of the Department of Health said that the agency has the authority to dictate what kind of policies districts can enforce.

“The department chose to draw the line on what type of masking policy by saying that you can have a masking policy, but we’re going to place a limit on that and what the limit is you have to allow for a parental opt out. There’s certainly not a masking ban,” explained state attorney Jason Gonzalez.

Under state law, the DOH may adopt policies to help control the spread of disease - but the attorney for the local school districts argues that the emergency rule actually does the opposite, preventing districts from taking stricter COVID measures.

“So, if they were adopting a rule that said, all students must wear masks, an argument could certainly be made that masks control COVID and that would do that, but that’s not what they did here,” said Jamie Cole, attorney for the districts.

Superintendent Hanna said even if Leon County loses this case, the district will still advocate for policies which he believes are in the best interest of the school community.

“I’ll continue to fight, and I know our school board will, to advocate for our rights here of the children in Leon County and what’s best for the children of Leon County, to keep them safe and to keep our schools open,” said Hanna.

Court proceedings concluded around 7 p.m. Thursday. Day two of the hearing will begin Friday at 9:30 a.m.

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