Aug. 21 (UPI) — The Florida Board of Education on Friday ordered two school districts to drop their mask requirements or lose state funding.
The board issued the orders to the school districts in Alachua and Broward counties, which it says are out of compliance with state law and directives that allow parents and guardians to opt their children out of local mask requirements.
The districts adopted the mask requirements in response to surging COVID-19 transmissions in Florida. But a press statement from the board called the district’s mask requirements a “blatant violation” of the Parents’ Bill of Rights, signed in June by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has resisted pandemic restrictions.
“These public officials have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Florida,” Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said in the statement. “We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”
If the districts don’t comply within 48 hours of receiving the orders, they must hand over to the commissioner information on the current annual compensation given to school board members. From there, the Florida Department of Education can withhold state funds equal to the monthly pay of school board members who voted for the mandates.
Earlier in the week, the Alachua County School Board voted unanimously to extend its mandate by eight weeks despite threats of legal action from the state, WCJB-TV in Gainesville reported.
Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, responded to the board’s order with a statement citing the high number of COVID-19 transmissions. She said the district had “no plans to change our current masking requirement.”
“If necessary, we will pursue legal action to ensure that we maintain local control over our schools and are able to meet our obligation to provide a safe learning environment for all students,” she said.
She said the Alachua County Commission has offered to backfill for any loss in state funding and expressed gratitude for the support the district has received including from medical experts and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
The dust-up has caught the attention of President Joe Biden, who took to Twitter on Friday to say that “we will do everything we can to support local school districts in safely reopening schools.” He added that federal pandemic relief funds can be used to backfill the salaries of school board members, superintendents and educators
Earlier this month, the Broward County School Board voted to enact its mask requirement. In a statement to Local 10, school board Chair Rosalind Osgood said she believed the district’s requirement is legal. The district is also considering a legal challenge, she said.
Other Florida school districts have also defied the state ban on masking requirements. Earlier this week, Miami-Dade County, home to Florida’s largest school district, approved a mandate. The Miami Herald reported that Sarasota County’s school board became the sixth to require students to wear masks.