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Florida gives school districts 48 hours to reverse mask mandates or lose funding

Two Florida school districts that defied state rules and imposed mask mandates for students have been given 48 hours to reverse course or lose state funding equal to the salaries of their school board members.

In an order sent Friday to the districts in Alachua and Broward counties — the first of five districts in the state to impose mask requirements this month — the State Board of Education said that if they do not reverse their mandates in two days, the districts will have to provide Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran the current salaries of each school board member.

The Florida Department of Education said it then will start gradually withholding state funds — equal to 1/12 of the salaries of the board members, monthly — “until each district demonstrates compliance,” according to a statement.

The order prohibits the districts from letting the reduction of funds “impact student services or teacher pay” and requires them to report to the state any instance in which they enforce their “unlawful” mask mandate.

It’s not legal what the governor is doing.

The state board kept open the possibility of additional sanctions.

PHOTO: Students and their families fill out paperwork at a back to school health clinic at Middleton High School in Tampa, Fla., on July 31, 2021.

Friday’s crackdown came after weeks of threats from the education department and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office, including an emergency meeting of the state board Tuesday in which the chair, Tom Grady, suggested that sanctions against Alachua and Broward could include removing school officials from their elected posts.

Leaders in both school districts told ABC News Friday that they will not reverse their mask mandates and will take legal action against the state.

“It’s not legal what the governor is doing. We think he has overstepped his purview,” said Dr. Rosalind Osgood, chair of the Broward County School Board.

PHOTO: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis arrives at a news conference, Aug. 3, 2021, near the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Miami.

“Based on the dramatic spike in cases and quarantines in our schools and community, we believe universal masking is absolutely critical to keeping schools open, protecting the health of our students and staff, and limiting the current strain on our local health care system,” Dr. Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said in a statement.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said on Friday he supported both districts, adding in a statement that President Joe Biden and his administration “stand with them and with all educators who put student and staff health and education first.”

Neither district would definitively say whether they will take up the Biden administration’s recent offer to let them use federal money to cover the withheld funds. Osgood said accepting the money would amount to “taking money away from education,” emphasizing that “it’s about the kids.” Simon, meanwhile, noted in her statement that the Alachua County Commission has offered to make up the loss of funding.

The school districts in Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, and Palm Beach counties also voted this week to impose mask mandates for students. Brett Tubbs, a spokesperson for the state education department, told ABC News that “it has not been decided yet” whether the state will investigate those districts, though he said, “If we’ve already done it in the past, we will probably go that route again.”

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