Aug 31, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Florida withholds funds from 2 school districts over mask mandates

Ron DeSantis. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida's Department of Education announced Monday it has withheld funds from two districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' order banning mask mandates in schools.

Driving the news: Amid a surge of COVID-19 cases largely driven by the Delta variant, several Florida school districts have implemented mask mandates, despite threats from the Republican governor and state officials to withhold funds for doing so.

  • Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said Monday the department has withheld funds from Alachua and Broward counties equal to the monthly salaries of school board members. It said this was because "each district has implemented a mandatory face mask police that violates parental rights by not allowing a parent or legal guardian to opt-out their child."
  • "We're going to fight to protect parents' rights to make health care decisions for their children," Corcoran said in a statement.
  • The penalty will continue monthly until each school board complies with DeSantis' order, the department said.

Yes, but: The move comes despite a court ruling last week that found that DeSantis' order was "without legal authority."

  • The judge also said he was issuing an injunction that blocks the department from penalizing schools for mask mandates.
  • The final ruling, however, has not been formally entered, per the Miami Herald. Corcoran made no mention of the ruling in his statement Monday.
  • The Department of Education said it would appeal the ruling.

What they're saying: Broward County Public Schools interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright said Monday night that the district and school board "believe we are in compliance" with state law, per the Herald.

  • “The health and safety of our students, teachers and staff continue to be our main priorities,’’ Cartwright added.
  • "As such, BCPS will continue to mandate masks, knowing the data shows they help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our schools."

The big picture: DeSantis is one of several Republican governors who have issued orders or signed laws that ban local governments or officials from implementing mask mandates.

  • The U.S. Department of Education announced earlier Monday it has launched investigations into five GOP-led states — Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah — that banned mask mandates in schools.
  • The department said that for now it's not launching probes in states where mask bans are not enforced or have been struck down by the courts, including Florida, but it would continue to monitor those states.
  • The Biden administration had already said that it would give financial assistance to school districts punished for defying executive orders that ban mask mandates for students and educational staff.

Go deeper: Nearly 6,000 students in quarantine or isolation in Florida school district

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