TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The 1st District Court of Appeals on Friday agreed to the state of Florida’s request to reinstate a stay on a judge’s order that blocked enforcement of a ban on mask mandates at Florida schools without a parental opt-out, pending appeal of a lawsuit filed by parents.

What You Need To Know

That means the Department of Education can continue to withhold funds for school board officials and superintendents who approve mandates in defiance of an executive order that requires parents to be able to opt their children out.

The decision comes two days after Judge John Cooper of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit once again blocked the state's ban on strict mask mandates in schools, lifting a stay that blocked his original ruling.

Last month, Cooper ruled that Gov. Ron DeSantis did not have the authority to stop school districts from making mask mandates. 

But DeSantis appealed the ruling, which placed an automatic stay on that decision, allowing the state to continue to penalize school districts for requiring masks for the time being.

On Monday, Cooper had lifted that stay, which meant his original ruling stood and the state needed to stop penalizing school districts until Cooper's ruling is blocked by a higher court. However, Friday's ruling blocked that decision.

The legal back-and-forth over school mask mandates is related to a lawsuit filed by a group of parents who maintain that the executive order banning mask mandates puts their children's health at risk because of the soaring number of COVID-19 cases among students. The suit named DeSantis, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, the Florida Department of Education as defendants.

DeSantis has said his order is guided by a parents' rights law passed last spring by the Republican-controlled legislature. Parents, he argues, should be the ultimate arbiter of whether their children are required to wear masks in the classroom. But Cooper disputed that stand when he initially issued a stay on the executive order, pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Right now, the state is withholding funding from two school districts, Alachua and Broward counties, and is investigating several others. Thirteen of the state's school districts have issued mask mandates because of surging COVID-19 cases, and Corcoran has sent letters to other districts warning them of possible penalties.

However, the Biden administration has vowed to support districts that are penalized because of mask mandates.