As the legal battle over masks in schools intensifies, Palm Beach County Public Schools are hiring a leading law firm to advise them on their mask mandate and, if necessary, defend it in court .
School board members are expected to approve spending of up to $ 50,000 on Wednesday for advice and legal representation for national law firm Boies Schiller Flexner.
The vote comes five days after a Tallahassee judge ruled Gov. Ron DeSantis overstepped his authority by ordering school boards last month not to impose a mask warrant on campus. DeSantis said he would appeal the decision.
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The school board is not directly involved in a dispute over its mask tenure, but state officials have threatened to suspend funding for the 11 school districts that defied DeSantis’ order and demanded masks on campus .
State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran informed the school board on Friday that it was investigating the board’s implementation of a mask mandate and gave the board until Wednesday to respond .
“If you fail to document full compliance with this rule…. I intend to recommend to the State Board of Education that the Department withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries of all members of the School Board…. until the district complies, ”Corcoran wrote.
If necessary, school district leaders in Palm Beach and other counties consider whether to take legal action themselves, two school board members said.
“At this time, we have not taken legal action, but we are ready to act when the time to act becomes necessary,” school board chairman Frank Barbieri said on Tuesday, “and we are certainly ready to act. defend ourselves with all our arsenal if the fight is brought to our doorstep.
The school board attorney said in a note to board members that Boies Schiller Flexner’s role will be to “provide advice and discuss strategy on all matters relating to the school board’s mask mandate.”
The firm will also represent the school district in “all pending and all future cases that the school board may file, join, collaborate, intervene or defend, in any forum.”
Under an agreement in principle, the firm would bill the school board $ 650 per hour for the work done by its associates, $ 450 per hour for the work done by its associates and $ 150 per hour for the work. performed by paralegals or case managers.
Erica Whitfield, a board member, said she hoped the board would spend much less than the $ 50,000 requested from the school board. But she said the school district must defend its right to take safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
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“The argument is that we, as a school board, have the constitutional right to make decisions about our schools,” she said. “We don’t think we’re doing anything wrong. We are doing what we think is right to save children’s lives.
The school district’s mask mandate, which went into effect last week, requires all students and adults to wear masks inside the school building, but allows medical exemptions.
Boies Schiller Flexner, led by famous lawyer David Boies, represented Al Gore in the 2000 Florida election recount and the US government in its antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft in 1998.
Most recently, he sparked controversy by portraying movie mogul Harvey Weinstein as he faced charges of sexual assault and sexual harassment in 2017.
New Yorker magazine revealed in 2017 that the firm hired private investigators to organize smear campaigns against Weinstein’s alleged victims and to mislead reporters reviewing their claims.
The New York Times, a long-time client, fired the company after the revelations, calling its actions “wrong.” The company apologized, saying it hired the private investigators but did not direct their work.