Judge rejects pursuit of bishop’s mask mandate – The Resident Community News Group, Inc.
Senior Circuit Court Judge Robert M. Foster prejudicially dismissed a lawsuit brought by parents at the Jacksonville Episcopal School against the school’s mask mandate policy.
By dismissing with prejudice the complainants are not allowed to file or appeal.
The case stems from the episcopal mask mandate for all students and staff implemented at the start of the school year as cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 skyrocketed across Jacksonville.
The plaintiffs argued that the “Parents Bill of Rights” approved by the state legislature earlier this year supersedes any such rule and that parents should be the ones to decide whether their children should wear a mask. Lawyers for the school countered that the legislation does not apply to private schools because they fall outside the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education.
The statute specifies that “[t]the State, none of its political subdivisions, any other governmental entity or any other institution can infringe the fundamental rights of a parent ”, without demonstrating that the action is reasonable and necessary.
The litigation centers on what “any other institution” means in a court. In a Sept. 22 ruling, Justice Foster ruled that this only applied to government entities, not a private school like Episcopal.
He cited jurisprudence and the common law standard of scrutiny as saying “it has historically only been applied to government actors, violating fundamental rights or discriminating against a suspect classification.”
Foster wrote that “the word ‘institution’ is broad enough to render the other terms listed as mere surplus, regardless of how the term is interpreted.
He added that the legislature “probably used the phrase ‘any other institution’ as the last catch-all term to emphasize that the list includes all government entities.”
Foster also noted that parents’ interpretation of the legislation would lead to “constitutionally questionable results.”
“If the Parents’ Bill of Rights applied to private religious institutions (like the defendants), they would be forced to justify their constitutionally protected religious practices in court – showing that their practices are” necessary to achieve a compelling interest state “- instead. that the state be required to justify its violation of these rights to the same high standard of review. This is an absurd role reversal, and the Court will not accept any interpretation that raises such serious and far-reaching constitutional concerns, ”said Foster.
In an emailed statement to Resident Community News, attorney Daniel Bean said he was disappointed with the decision.
“The plaintiffs respectfully disagree with the decision of the lower court, as the plaintiffs believe that ‘institutions’ include private schools,” he said. “This case concerns only the right of a parent to make health care decisions for their minor children and the plaintiffs will continue to believe so.”
Episcopal attorney Stephen Busey said the law was clear and plaintiffs had no records. “The parents brought this lawsuit in bad faith,” he said in a statement. “They agreed upon registration to abide by episcopal policies. If they don’t like the school’s policies, they can send their children to another school.
Episcopal officials have extended the mask’s tenure until at least October 8 and say they will continue to regularly review their security measures in light of any change in circumstances.
By Kevin J. Meerschaer
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