The Florida Board of Education has notified officials at two school districts that they must comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning mask mandates within 48 hours or face financial penalties.
In a letter sent on Friday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said both Broward County and Alachua County must comply with the order.
“It is important to remember that this issue is about ensuring local school board members, elected politicians, follow the law. These public officials have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida. We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” Corcoran said in a statement.
If the school districts do not comply with the order, penalties will be levied.
“The Florida Department of Education will then begin to withhold from state funds, on a monthly basis, an amount equal to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of the school board members who voted to impose the unlawful mask mandates until each district demonstrates compliance,” state officials said.
Other districts have followed the lead of Alachua and Broward and implemented mask mandate policies. These school boards include Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Hillsborough.
This week the Miami-Dade Public School Board voted 7-1 to impose a district-wide school mask mandate only providing a medical opt-out form. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho referenced the support of mask mandates by Miami-based medical professionals and said, “I am accepting 100 percent of their recommendations specific to the protocols, inclusive of mandatory masking.”
The controversy over mask policies in schools began when Governor DeSantis signed executive order EO 21-175. The order cites HB 241, known as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which expanded upon the rights parents have regarding their children’s education, health, and upbringing. These rights include decisions related to masks.
Earlier this week, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said the Florida BOE determined that probable cause had existed to open investigations into the districts who are imposing the mask mandates illegally.
“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.”
Recently, the Biden administration stepped into the fray.
Biden’s secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, admitted to having spoken directly with faculty members from school districts that are defying the law and forcing mask mandates on their students, even if their states have banned such mandates, ABC News reports.
Cardona said that some such schools fear repercussions from the state governments if they continue defying the bans, including in Texas and Florida. “I have had the conversations with superintendents,” Cardona said in an interview on Tuesday. “And they have asked, if this goes in that direction, how do we get support? My message is, open the schools safely; we got your back.”
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Steve Stewart is the Managing Editor and a contributor at The Florida Capital Star. Email tips to [email protected]