DeSantis softens threat to withhold school officials' salaries

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Key CDC panel backs Moderna, J&J boosters GOP senators call on Biden to back down from vaccine mandates DeSantis to call special session of legislature to fight vaccine mandates MORE (R) on Thursday softened his threat to withhold school officials’ salaries should they impose mask mandates in defiance of his executive order.

DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, told The Miami Herald in an email that “activist, anti-science school board members” should dock their own salaries if the state imposes financial sanctions on their districts.

“Those officials should own their decision — and that means owning the consequences of their decisions rather than demanding students, teachers, and school staff to foot the bill for their potential grandstanding,” Pushaw said.

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The comments come days after DeSantis’s office threatened to withhold the salaries of the officials, suggesting that the State Board of Education could “move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law.”

But despite his threat, several school districts in the state have decided to keep their mask mandates in place, risking the financial retribution that comes along with the decision.

The Broward County School District voted Tuesday to keep its mask mandate in place. The superintendents of Leon and Alucha counties have said they will refuse to allow parents to opt out of having their children wear masks.

The White House has said that the administration is looking to support school districts that defy governor's order.

While DeSantis’s order doesn’t explicitly target salaries, Pushaw told the Herald that it was “technically” possible for local officials to address how to handle the financial penalties.

“The issue is that ... superintendents and school board members are not state employees. Therefore, the only way the state could tailor the financial penalty would be to withhold an amount of funding equal to their salaries,” she said. “In that event, it is possible that the officials who are violating the law could decide to take funding from other needs in their own district, in order to pay themselves salaries. It wouldn’t be fair to the students, but it would technically be possible.”

Florida has become the epicenter of the coronavirus surge in the U.S. as the delta variant has cause spikes in infections and hospitalizations nationwide.

Updated at 1:54 p.m.