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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Photos: Joe Raedle and Win McNamee via Getty Images

The Biden administration is stepping in to offer financial assistance to Florida educators defying Gov. Ron DeSantis' law banning local K-12 mask mandates.

Why it matters: The battle over mask mandates in schools has been brewing for weeks. The Republican governor recently threatened to withhold pay from superintendents and school board members who go against his ban.

The backdrop: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance last month recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of their vaccination status.

  • Texas and Florida are among the states barring masking requirements in schools, but several Florida districts have flouted the law, citing COVID concerns.
  • The Education Department is now offering to pay the salaries of Florida school board members who stand to lose state funds as a result.

What they're saying: School districts that lose state funding for enacting local safety measures can pull from federal relief dollars, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a letter to DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on Friday.

  • DeSantis' attempts to bar schools from enforcing mask mandates is "deeply" concerning given recent spikes in cases, Cardona said. It "puts students and staff at risk."
  • "The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction," Cardona wrote. Local school leaders should be able to determine their own rules based on their own assessments.
  • "We are eager to partner with [the Florida Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators," Cardona added, warning that his agency will work with school districts directly if need be.

DeSantis maintains it should be up to parents to decide whether their child wears a mask.

  • On Friday, his spokeswoman Christina Pushaw criticized the White House for choosing to spend funds "on the salaries of superintendents and elected politicians, who don’t believe that parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children, then on Florida’s students, which is what these funds should be used for," per Politico.

The big picture: The Delta variant has hit Florida particularly hard in recent weeks, with the state setting a new record in daily cases last week.

What to watch: Florida parents, including those of students with disabilities, have filed legal challenges against DeSantis' order.

Go deeper

Judge denies relief for Cobb parents suing over mask-optional policy

Pro-mask demonstrators hold signs and chant during a rally over Cobb School District’s optional mask policy. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage for Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal court judge has rejected parents’ request for a temporary injunction in their lawsuit against the Cobb County School District over its mask-optional policy.

Why it matters: Approval of the request would have required the district to follow CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools, including universal masking while indoors.

Oct 19, 2021 - Health

Puerto Rico leads U.S. COVID vaccination rates

A mass vaccination event at the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 31. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

Puerto Rico has the highest percentage of people fully vaccinated against the coronavirus in the United States as of Oct. 19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: The island has managed to accomplish such feats amid frequent power outages, earthquakes and high dependence on imports of health technologies from outside the region.

GE to mandate COVID vaccinations for U.S. workers

Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images

General Electric will require all of its workers in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19, citing President Biden's executive order for federal contractors, the company confirmed to Axios on Tuesday.

Why it matters: General Electric is the latest in a slew of major companies to mandate the vaccine for workers, following in the footsteps of American Airlines, Tyson Foods and Microsoft, among others.