A group of parents and their children with disabilities filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida Friday alleging that Governor Ron DeSantis’s ban on masking requirements in schools was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Two central Florida families are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including students attending schools in Volusia County and Orange Counties.
The federal lawsuit filed in the southern Florida district includes 27 parents and children who claim DeSantis “has no authority to threaten school districts with forfeiting funding for protecting the health of their students with disabilities and the right to an integrated learning environment. ”
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DeSantis had directed the state Department of Education to find ways to urge school districts against creating mask mandates and punish them for doing so. He said the rules could include withholding funds from school districts or other measures allowed under Florida law.
Last week, DeSantis signed an ordinance banning mask mandates in Florida schools, leaving it up to parents to decide whether their children wear masks in school. This is because Florida is reporting record hospital admissions and COVID-19 infections.
The children in the lawsuit all have individualized education plans based on their health and are at higher risk for severe cases of COVID-19, according to family lawyers.
“In refusing to allow school districts to implement masking requirements, Governor DeSantis has created an illegal barrier for students with disabilities that prevents the most vulnerable students in our state from returning to public schools,” the lawsuit said, adding In addition, the public school system essentially forces the children out of school.
On Friday, the Florida Board of Education approved the use of private school vouchers for children who choose not to wear a mask in school.
The lawsuit states that the defendants “have publicly argued that students can attend virtual programs or receive a voucher to attend a private school.”
The plaintiffs’ attorneys argue that neither option is comparable to what public schools offer.
“Virtual programs do not provide free adequate public education to students with disabilities and there are no virtual programs for students with a modified curriculum,” the lawsuit states.
He later adds: “Vouchers are not a viable alternative either. When a parent accepts a voucher, they forego their right to free adequate public education. Parents must also have the financial means to send their child to a private school and pay the additional costs that the voucher does not cover. In addition, parents need to find a private school that is ready to accept their child with their disability. The mere possession of a voucher does not guarantee that the family will find a private school that is willing to accept the voucher and this student. “
In addition to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the lawsuit alleges violations of the Rehabilitation Act and Florida Educational Equity Act.
“Parents find themselves in an impossible situation of having to choose between the health and life of their child and returning to school,” says the lawsuit.
The parents and children’s attorneys are Stephanie Langer and Matthew Dietz, both of whom work for the Disability Independence Group.
The Disability Independence Group is working, according to its website, to “expand the opportunities for participation, education, employment and acceptance of people with disabilities through advocacy, litigation, education and training”.
Read the lawsuit below:
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