Florida withholds funds from two districts with mask mandates

Florida’s Department of Education announced that it was withholding funds from two school districts over their mask mandates.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced Monday that the department has withheld funds in the amount of monthly school board member salaries from Alachua and Broward county districts for implementing mask mandates that parents do not have the option to opt out of, violating a state order.

The withholding of funds will continue monthly “until each school board complies with state law and rules,” the statement said.

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The announcement comes as the state battles with school districts over imposing mask mandates, in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisDemocratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills A sad reality: In a season of giving, most will ignore America's poor Walt Disney World pauses vaccine mandate after DeSantis signs new legislation MORE (R). As of last week, 10 districts accounting for more than half of the state’s enrollment have imposed mask mandates.

Earlier this month, Florida’s board of education voted to investigate Broward and Alachua and several weeks ago requested a list of annual salaries of all school board members in both counties. The Florida Department of Education said it would be withholding 1/12th of the amount each month from the district’s funds.

On Friday, Leon County Judge John Cooper ruled that the executive order was “without legal authority” and issued an injunction stopping the state from withholding funding from districts that institute mask mandates.

Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said in an emailed statement Tuesday that she is “very troubled” by Monday’s announcement.

“Our School Board members made a courageous decision to protect the health and lives of students, staff and the people of this community, and a court has already ruled they had the legal right to do so. They deserve praise, not penalties,” Simon said.

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“We have already begun working with our colleagues in other districts to take legal action. We believe this is a necessary step to ensure that Florida's districts have the right to act in the best interests of those they serve,” she continued.

Broward County Public Schools interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright said in a statement that the district is "continuing to comply with the sanction imposed by Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran regarding daily reporting of students who face a consequence for not wearing a mask." 

"The health and safety of our students, teachers and staff continue to be our main priorities. As such, BCPS will continue to mandate masks, knowing the data shows they help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.  As previously stated, this decision will be reviewed by the School Board after Labor Day as conditions may change and modification may be appropriate," Cartwright said. 

The Biden administration has said that it stands behind school districts in Florida and in other states that have issued mask mandates.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel CardonaMiguel CardonaHillicon Valley — Immigrants being put in surveillance programs Senate Democrats urge government to do more to protect K-12 schools against hackers Democrats call on Education secretary to address 'stealthing' at federal level MORE has spoken with the superintendents of the Alachua and Broward school districts and said that any financial penalties can be addressed with federal funds.

Updated at 11:28 a.m.