TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – The state and six school districts called their final witnesses on Friday in an administrative hearing over Florida’s school COVID-19 policies.
The judge now must decide whether the Florida Department of Health overstepped its bounds when creating its emergency rules on mask mandates and student quarantine protocols.
Only two witnesses were heard from on the final day of the trial. The first, infectious disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty, argued masks in schools work.
“There’s no if’s, and’s or but’s about it,” Marty said.
She also said parents shouldn’t have the final say on whether their child is safe to return to the classroom after being exposed to COVID-19.
“Even I would not know if my child was asymptomatic,” she said.
FDOH’s emergency rule allows parents to send their children back to school after exposure, so long as they have no symptoms.
“Parents know their child the best and ultimately they should be the decision-makers,” said Jacob Oliva, the chancellor of Florida’s Division of K12 Public Schools.
Oliva testified the FDOH rule came as a response to districts that had expressed concern that quarantines were getting out of hand.
“They’re really concerned about the amount of learning loss,” Oliva said.
Both sides agreed to forgo closing arguments. The judge said to expect a ruling by Friday, Nov. 5.
After the hearing, the school districts’ attorney Jamie Cole told Capitol News Desk the biggest problem with the FDOH rule is that it was premised on a COVID emergency, as cases were already trending downward.
“Based on that rationale, they could just keep doing emergency rules from March 1, 2020, till the end of COVID,” Cole said.
Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna told Capitol News Desk this case is likely to set an important precedent on the authority of local school districts going forward.
“At the end of the day it comes down to state control versus local control and we’ll see what the judge has to say,” Hanna said.
Either side is likely to appeal if the judge’s decision doesn’t go their way. Even if the FDOH rule is struck down, this debate is likely far from over.
In his call for a special session, Governor Ron DeSantis asked lawmakers to codify the rights of parents to make masking decisions for their children more clearly in state law.