Florida officials vote to penalize 2 school districts over mask mandates

Florida education officials voted on Tuesday to punish two school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisSchools without mask mandate 3.5 times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks: CDC study Texas limits business with Ben & Jerry's over Israel move Overnight Health Care — Presented by Indivior — CDC panel approves boosters for some, but not based on jobs MORE's (R) ban on mask mandates.

Florida's Board of Education decided that the Broward and Alachua county school boards are to be investigated and punished for issuing mask mandates for students and teachers, The Washington Post reported.

“My recommendation is every school superintendent have to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not,” Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said.

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After local school boards in Florida began issuing mask mandates in defiance of DeSantis's ban on such measures, the governor's office issued numerous threats against the districts, including cutting into their budgets and blocking salaries for school officials.

According to the Post, members of the state board questioned the superintendents of the respective school districts, with Tuesday's meeting becoming combative at points.

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon argued that the district's mask mandate did not violate state law, as it allowed parents to opt out by using Florida’s Hope Scholarship voucher program to transfer their children to a private school.

School Board of Alachua County Chairwoman Leanetta McNealy told The Hill last week that while she did have concerns about punishment from the state government, the cost of her salary did not compare to the well-being of the students in her county.

"When I look at what's happening in our community, in our state ... they had to add a refrigerated truck behind our local hospital this week because our morgue is at capacity. I know that we don't want to be at odds with the governor or the commissioner of education, but it's our right to protect our students at all costs," McNealy said.

As the Post reported, Broward County interim schools superintendent Vickie Cartwright appeared to share McNealy's sentiment, pointing out that her county had only five available ICU beds in the midst of the worsening COVID-19 surge.

"I don't have any regrets about putting student and employee safety before politics," Sarah Leonardi, a member of the School Board of Broward County, told The Hill in an interview last week. "If I were motivated by a paycheck, then I shouldn't be in this position."