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Lawsuit challenges Jacksonville private school’s classroom mask mandate

The Episcopal School of Jacksonville is in a legal battle as several parents are suing over the right for their children to go without masks in the classroom. The parents take issue with a policy that only allows students who are fully vaccinated to go without a face covering.
The Episcopal School of Jacksonville is in a legal battle as several parents are suing over the right for their children to go without masks in the classroom. The parents take issue with a policy that only allows students who are fully vaccinated to go without a face covering.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Episcopal School of Jacksonville is in a legal battle as several parents are suing over the right for their children to go without masks in the classroom.

The parents take issue with a policy that only allows students who are fully vaccinated to go without a face covering.

Right now, according to school policies posted on the website, a student at Episcopal must wear a mask in class for the first 30 days of school unless they’re fully vaccinated. If they have proof of vaccination, their parents can opt them out.

However, the lawsuit challenges that is not fair, pointing out some children aren’t even old enough for the vaccine.

Jacksonville attorney Daniel Bean, who’s also co-counsel for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ legal challenge to banning mask mandates, represents seven Episcopal families claiming the policy is against the law.

“It comes down to at the end of the day, if you’re going to make a health care decision for my child,” Bean said. “I know my child better than anybody. And it’s my decision under the law.”

The parents claim the rules don’t contain exemptions for students who are too young to get the vaccine, students whose parents chose not to vaccinate their child or students who tested positive within the past 90 days and therefore shouldn’t get the vaccine yet.

“Fortunately, for our clients, the statute that was enacted, says any other institution, any institution, cannot interfere with the parental right to make a decision to make a healthcare decision for a minor child,” Bean noted.

Episcopal management responded to the suit, telling News4Jax in an e-mail:

“As an independent, faith-based school, Episcopal is not subject to the Governor’s Executive Order 21-175 or the Florida Department of Health’s emergency rules for public schools. Episcopal will continue to closely monitor local health conditions and will modify protocols as the situation in our community warrants.”

The school’s marketing director noted that leaders consult with a number of doctors for guidance on COVID-19 regulations.

“The way this complaint is drafted, you would think that they were suing a governmental entity,” said Elizabeth “Betsy” White, a civil rights attorney who’s been vocal about the topic.

White sent six children through Episcopal and said the private school can act as it wants when it comes to mask mandates.

“This is a private school, people make decisions about whether or not they want to send their children there,” she pointed out. “And when they do that, they enter into a contract with the school. And if they don’t want, they don’t like that contract, then what they do is they vote with their pocketbook, and they send their children somewhere else.”

The judge assigned to the case, Eric Roberson, recused himself this week for unknown reasons. The case has now been assigned to Senior Judge Robert Foster.

If this isn’t resolved or dismissed, it could go to trial in October.


About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.