A judge overruled Florida's conservative, pro-Trump governor Friday and said the state's schools can make mask-wearing mandatory.
Judge John Cooper sided with a group of parents who had filed a lawsuit challenging an executive order by Governor Ron DeSantis that barred schools from making students and school staff wearing masks to fight Covid-19.
Several school districts in Florida had decided to make masks mandatory because of a rise in cases fueled by the Delta variant of the virus.
DeSantis, a faithful Republican ally of former president Donald Trump, opposes such a measure on grounds it violates people's individual liberties. He signed an order July 30 prohibiting schools from imposing mask mandates.
During the court proceedings, lawyers for the governor and the state department of education argued that parents have the right to decide what is best for the health of their children under a state law passed this year.
Cooper rejected that argument, saying the law does not bar public institutions from taking measures to protect people's health, so long as they show that such measures are reasonable and necessary.
"Parents' rights are very important, but they are not without some reasonable limitations," the judge wrote, according to The New York Times.
The judge also barred the state education department from punishing school districts that defy the executive order from DeSantis.
Last week, the state government had threatened two school districts that ignored the governor, saying it would withhold funding equal to the monthly salary of the school board members.
Since the start of this school year, students in several Florida counties have been forced to quarantine after catching the coronavirus or coming into contact with infected people.