Recent state court actions suspend state-level universal school mask requirement bans in Florida and Tennessee, uphold a ban in South Carolina

By Ellen Morrissey

As schools have begun reopening for the 2021-2022 academic year, several states have enacted policies on mask requirements in schools. As of Sept. 9, four states banned school mask requirements, seventeen states required masks in schools, and twenty-nine states left school mask decisions up to local authorities.

Recent legal actions have affected these policies in Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina. In Florida, Second Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled on Sept. 8 that the state Department of Education could not enforce Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) order prohibiting mask requirements without an opt-out option for parents in public schools. Cooper had ruled against DeSantis’ order on Aug. 27, but the ruling had not gone into effect as DeSantis appealed the decision. Following a Sept. 8 hearing on the status of the order pending appeal, Cooper said the government did not present a compelling case for blocking his order. The ban on enforcement will remain in effect until the First District Court of Appeals hears DeSantis’ appeal.

In Tennessee, United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Sheryl H. Lipman ruled on Sept. 3 in favor of two students who sued Gov. Bill Lee (R) after he issued an order requiring schools to allow students to opt-out of school mask mandates. Lipman ruled Lee’s order violated the students’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In South Carolina, the state Supreme Court rejected the city of Columbia’s challenge to the state’s school mask requirement ban. The court found that the mask requirement ban, which was established in an amendment to the state’s budget, was related to budgetary concerns and therefore did not violate a South Carolina rule requiring state laws address a single primary subject.

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