The Florida Board of Education (BOE) is ramping up pressure toward Florida’s two defiant school districts, Alachua and Broward, over their insistence on imposing a district-wide school mask mandate despite Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mask mandate ban.
The BOE met on Tuesday night, when it voted to direct Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to investigate the school districts and their elected officials, saying the school districts broke the law. Board member Tom Grady said the investigation could “involve withholding salaries, it may involve removing officers, it may involve reviewing district conduct.”
The Alachua School District is requiring masks for the first two weeks of school while the Broward School District maintained its imposed mandate from July.
Corcoran said probable cause had been determined to investigate the districts that have violated state law.
“Every school board member and every school superintendent have a duty to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not,” Corcoran wrote. “While the district may not agree with the safety protocols set forth by the surgeon general in the emergency rule, the surgeon general is the person who, under the law, sets protocols to control COVID-19 in schools.”
For months, DeSantis has said he will stand in the way of school districts and federal authorities who are trying to impose mask mandates on children, saying a decision like that ought to be left to the parents.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running for governor against DeSantis in 2022, has said she will be working with the federal government to reimburse school districts for any docked salaries or district funds.
“Schools need to be able to require masks, at least for now, for the kids who aren’t eligible to get the vaccine yet and those who are at a greater risk of getting sick from COVID,” Fried said.
President Joe Biden has stepped into the fray by extending his appreciation to the officials at the rogue districts for defying DeSantis’ executive order, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki floated the idea of the federal government paying the salaries of the elected officials whose income had been withdrawn by the state.
The U.S. Department of Education has also stepped in saying they are backing the Broward and Alachua officials who have decided to impose the mask mandate.
“The department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction,” said U.S. DOE Secretary Miguel Cardona.
Alachua Superintendent Carlee Simon said they are exercising their constitutional right to protect their students and staff.
“We believe this is ‘reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest,’” said Simon, quoting Florida law.
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Grant Holcomb is a reporter at the Florida Capital Star and The Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips.
Photo “Richard Corcoran” by Richard Corcoran and photo “Florida pins” by Florida Department of Education.