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Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach Counties Willing To File Lawsuits Over Masks, Threat Of Sanctions

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - The lawsuit challenging Florida's ban on mask mandates in public schools is nearing an end.

On Wednesday there was tense testimony during the Zoom court hearing, with an attorney posing the question "What is an acceptable death rate for children when it comes to COVID?"

Parents who want children to wear masks are challenging the governor's order that schools shouldn't be allowed to require kids to cover up in the classroom.

With the delta variant surging, Broward schools have required students to wear masks since school began a week ago, which the State Board of Education says defies the governor's order.

The Broward School District believes they are In compliance with the order.

Board members are waiting to hear from the State Department of Education whether they will be docked pay.

According to the latest stats, Broward has 84 students and 68 employees out with COVID and more than 2,000 students and staff quarantined.

In a Miami-Dade, where school started Monday, they show one student out with COVID And 91 employees testing positive Within the last 30 days.

On Wednesday, school board members from Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties say they are willing to file a lawsuit over their mask policies and the Department of Education's threat to impose sanctions.

"I would like to see where this goes legally because I believe we are on the right side of the legal system and the right side of history," said Broward School Board member Sarah Leonardi.

Nearly three million Florida public school students now face mask mandates as Gov. Ron DeSantis continues his battle to have that decision left up to parents.

The fight over school mask mandates is taking center stage in a Tallahassee courtroom. It was day three of a hearing on a challenge by pro-mask parents to DeSantis and state education officials' ban on mask mandates.

"I take my rights and my freedom very seriously," testified Jennifer Gillen, who supports the governor's order and has two sons in Lee County schools where there is no strict mask mandate. "Our rights are actually being threatened."

Dr. Jay Battacharya, a Stanford University medical professor and researcher, also supports the governor's approach.

"I don't believe there is high-quality evidence to show masks are effective in stopping disease spread," he testified.

On Tuesday, DeSantis took the stand to defend his position.

"Going forward, we believe that parents can make decisions about their child's health and safety," he said.

The governor made it clear that he was concerned about the students' futures if forced to wear masks now.

"There is zero controversy about the data, but it was almost as if that data didn't exist. And then this idea that we have to put plastic dividers and some of the nonsense that you've seen. I just think it's going to have long-term implications," he said.

Since the three day hearing began Monday another school district is now ignoring the governor's executive order. On Tuesday, Orange County became the 9th school district to implement a mandatory mask mandate despite threats from the state's school board that it will withhold funding from school districts that defy the governor's directive.

Attorney Charles Dodson, who is representing the parents' group, once again argued the Florida Constitution prohibits the governor from legally banning school masks. He cited two provisions; one makes a safe and secure school a paramount duty of the state and the other provides that local boards shall operate and supervise the schools.

The Tuesday hearing came on the same day that the school board responded to the state's demand on Friday that it drop the mandate and allow parents to opt-out.

"We're concerned about here in Broward is our students, our staff, our community," said Broward School Board Chair Dr. Rosalind Osgood.

The state had given Broward and Alachua counties until Tuesday to end their mask mandates. State officials have threatened to withhold funding equal to school board salaries if a district didn't comply.

Osgood said the district is in compliance.

In its response, the board "requests that the State Board rescind the Order," saying the power to make the rules is with the "…duly locally elected district school board and not the appointed State Board of Education or its appointed Commissioner of Education."

Osgood said the school board believes DeSantis is "overreaching his authority."

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