Home Coronavirus ‘Simply Unacceptable’: State Cutting Funds From School Districts With Mask Mandates

‘Simply Unacceptable’: State Cutting Funds From School Districts With Mask Mandates


The Florida Board of Education will withhold money equal to the salaries of local school board members from districts in Alachua and Broward counties over their tough mask mandates for students, which state officials say violate Florida law.

State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran (Facebook)

“We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in a written statement Friday.

The move comes days after the State Board of Education interrogated the Alachua and Broward superintendents about their mask mandates, which allow students to opt out for medical reasons only.

These dispute centers on the question: Under the Florida Constitution, who has ultimate authority over how schools operate during a pandemic — the state or the local school board? The Constitution says students are entitled a “safe, secure” public education and authorizes local school boards to “operate, control, and supervise all free public schools within the school district.”

The state is attempting to enforce Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order and a Department of Health rule, which both invoke Florida’s Parental Bill of Rights, that leave decisions on masking completely up to parents’ discretion. The governor insists masks are inappropriate for small children.

Unless the school boards notify the state within 48 hours that they are backing down, “the 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.

The department ordered the districts to provide “information confirming the current annual compensation provided to all school board members.”

According to data from Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, as of September 2020 (the data haven’t been updated yet for the new school year), Alachua’s school board are each paid $40,287 a year.

Four members of Alachua’s school board voted on the matter, as there was a vacancy on the five-member board. DeSantis filled the vacancy on Wednesday and it is not clear how the new board member will be affected.

Broward’s nine school board members were paid $46,773, according to the September data.

The order says the districts may not “reduce any expenditures other than those related to compensation for school board members.”

“These are the initial consequences to their intentional refusal to follow state law and state rule to purposefully and willingly violate the rights of parents,” Corcoran said in a written statement. “This is simply unacceptable behavior.”

Additional sanctions are possible to “bring each school district into compliance with state law and rule,” the order says. The state board members previously floated removing local board members from their positions, which is potentially still on the table.

With COVID cases are surging in Florida, there are no vaccines approved for students under the age of 12 and some schools have closed due to COVID outbreaks and exposure. Options for temporary distance learning are fewer this year, compared to those offered by districts last year, making learning from home less accessible for students having to quarantine.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, and Palm Beach county school districts have voted to enact mask mandates similar to those in Alachua and Broward, requiring medical documentation for opt outs.

The Sarasota County school district, which allows parents to choose whether their child should be masked, was set to re-evaluate its policy Friday afternoon,

Nikki Fried, the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services and a candidate in next year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, has been a vocal critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic.

She tweeted Friday: “Defunding our schools to make them less safe is unconscionable and unconstitutional. We are reaching out to the White House and legal counsel right now.”

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden instructed U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to “assess all available tools in taking action” to ensure that “governors and other officials are taking all appropriate steps to prepare for a safe return to school for our nation’s children, including not standing in the way of local leaders making such preparations.”

Biden also instructed Cardona to ensure that governors and other officials  providing in-person learning without “compromising their health or the health of their families or communities.”

Trial opens Monday in Leon County Circuit Court in a lawsuit filed by parents with children in public schools who allege that DeSantis exceeded his authority in imposing his masks-optional policy on local school boards.

Florida Phoenix posted on SouthFloridaReporter.comAug. 21, 2021

Republished with permission

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