DCPS sues Health Department over mask mandate

JACKSONVILLE — Duval County Public Schools is among a handful of school boards suing the Florida Department of Health for requiring school districts to let parents opt their kids out of wearing masks.

School leaders at DCPS maintain they have the authority to mandate masks in schools. Right now, DCPS is under a 90-day mask mandate. A student can only opt-out of wearing masks with a doctor’s note.

Action News Jax talked to local parents. Two moms both feel safe sending their kids to school during the pandemic, but they have different opinions on who should be deciding whether their kids mask up.

“What they’re doing with the mask mandate is giving my son the barrier, or the safety he needs, and the peace of mind I need whenever he’s in school,” Roma Rose Furbish said.

Furbish feels teachers are like “second parents” when kids are in school. She says school leaders know what’s best for them. But Stacey Lai thinks parents should decide whether to mask their kids, adding that she doesn’t think masks are all that useful.

“They don’t wear them correctly. My son will come home and it’s drenched in drool, been on a playground, and it’s dirty, so I just feel like it’s purposeless,” Lai said.

The Florida Department of Health maintains parents like Lai have the right to opt their kids out of wearing masks.

DCPS and a handful of other school boards are challenging the health department in a lawsuit.

And on Thursday, the Florida Board of Education discussed punishing 11 school districts -- including DCPS -- that have mask mandates. The districts in Hillsborough, Sarasota and Indian River counties had been targeted for penalties but were dropped from the state board’s list after officials voted to repeal mask requirements this week.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) authorized Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran to financially sanction the salaries of elected school board members in eight school districts, including Duval.

School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Andersen and Superintendent Diana Greene released a joint statement on the Florida State Board of Education’s action on Thursday:

“We have a responsibility as constitutional officers to ensure Duval County Public Schools provides all students with a safe environment for learning. While we are cautiously optimistic about the community transmission trends in Duval County, we must remain vigilant in fulfilling that responsibility.

“The outcome of today’s state board action was expected; it was just another action in the series of events that led our school board to feel compelled to join the petition filed with the Division of Administrative Hearings. We look forward to the opportunity to present our case in that forum.”

Some families in other Florida districts that don’t have mandates wish they did.

”I miss socializing with my friends,” Reefy Kinder said.

The nine-year-old had 30 surgeries over six years, leaving her immunocompromised.

Her parents and doctor decided not to send her to school in person this year because there’s no mask mandate in their county.

“It was too dangerous, if you ask me, for the other kids to go in without masks, let alone a child who is immunocompromised,” Jamie Kinder said.

The Kinders are 10 other families are part of a federal lawsuit against Governor Ron DeSantis, the State Department of Education, and several school districts. It alleges an executive order from DeSantis banning mask mandates violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Reefy is going to have to stay home until there’s a mask mandate, or until she can get a vaccine.

An FDA advisory committee will meet on October 26 to talk about vaccines for kids between five and 11. That means shots could be available to them around Halloween or early November.

A spokesperson for DCPS told Action News Jax on Thursday declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing “pending litigation.”