Named along with DeSantis in the 25-page suit are Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education, and the State Board of Education.
The governor’s order was issued just two days before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing the state broke records with 21,683 new cases of the virus in one day. “The state has become the new national epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the U.S. as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread,” Associated Press writer Mike Schneider penned on July 31.
DeSantis’ response was essentially a mix of self-righteous indignation and blaming the weather, or as the governor put it, “a seasonal increase—more Floridians are indoors because of the hot weather with air conditioning circulating the virus … The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day,” DeSantis said in a news release last month. “Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children.”
Parents represented by the Disability Independence legal services group would likely beg to differ; their children’s lives are at stake. Advocating for children with disabilities, their parents filed a federal suit Friday after DeSantis directed his commissioner of education to withhold state funds from school districts that did not comply with his anti-mask mandate. “As Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis does not have the authority to threaten school districts with loss of funding if they protect their students with disabilities health and rights to be in an integrated learning environment,” attorneys said in the suit. “By doing so, he is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.”
Attorneys added in the suit:
“The children whose parents are plaintiffs are all children who have an individualized education plan or 504 plan in the school districts in the counties in which they live. They are all at higher risk for severe illness or death due to COVID-19 and will not go to public school because of the higher risk of severe illness or death. The families are seeking to have their IEP and 504 plan implemented with care and heed taken for their individual circumstances as demanded by the educational laws, and not because of political whims or pressure of the majority that will endanger their health.”
The Disability Independence Group, a nonprofit, defines itself as a resource center for people with disabilities, their families, attorneys, and other professionals. It said in a news release about the DeSantis case: “Our argument is simple and plaine, politics do not override the ability for a child to go to school without risk of serious injury of death. Since we filed the case on Friday, we have received calls and emails from many parents wanting to be a part of this case and to have their voices heard.”