Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has had another setback in his battle to prevent school districts from bringing in mask mandates. Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper ruled Wednesday that the state must immediately stop enforcing its ban on mask mandates, reports NBC. Cooper, who first ruled against the ban two weeks ago, lifted an automatic stay of his decision, saying the state had failed to prove that an appeal would succeed.
"It's undisputed that in Florida we are in the midst of a COVID pandemic," the judge said, per CNN. "Based on the evidence I've heard, there's no harm to the state if the stay is set aside." He noted that expert witnesses had testified that younger children could only be protected from the delta variant by wearing masks—or staying home. "We are not in normal times. We are in a pandemic," Cooper said. "We have children that can’t be protected by vaccination."
Some 13 school districts in Florida have defied DeSantis by issuing mask mandates, and the state plans to financially penalize at least two of them. The case will now head to the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, the AP reports. Before Wednesday's ruling, DeSantis said he didn't think Cooper would lift the stay, "but if it is lifted I am confident that that will be reinstated at the 11th Circuit." (Read more Florida stories.)