Administration asks judge to order Florida to release funding to school districts with mask mandates

Administration asks judge to order Florida to release funding to school districts with mask mandates
© ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) issued a "cease and desist complaint" to the Florida DOE after the latter department withheld funding from Florida public schools over mask mandates.  

The complaint was filed on Thursday with the Office of Administrative Law Judges after the state DOE stripped funding from the Alachua and Broward County public school districts, both of which had masking requirements in place.
  
In total, more than $525,000 has been withheld from Broward County Public Schools and more than $190,000 from Alachua County Public Schools, according to the Florida DOE.
 
That funding comes from the salaries of board members and a federal grant that was intended to protect students from the spread of COVID-19 at schools, according to the complaint. The federal grant provided more than $147,000 and $420,000 in Alachua and Broward, respectively.
 
Both districts at the center of this incident have had mask mandates in place for both vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff members. The Broward County school board voted on Tuesday to lift the mandate and make masking optional for high school students, staff and visitors. However, the requirement remains in place for elementary and middle schools.  

In an email to The Hill, the Florida DOE said it was "important to remember that locally elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they follow."

The email continued: "As a result of their blatant refusal to follow the law, the Florida Department of Education has withheld an amount equivalent to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of each school board member until such time as the boards demonstrate compliance." 

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The Florida DOE also said that when the "districts demonstrate compliance with state law, the withheld funds will be disbursed."

Florida has been the subject of issues surrounding mask and vaccine requirements throughout the pandemic. On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) sued the Biden administration over its COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal contractors. DeSantis has also prohibited requirements for any proof of vaccination in the state and has banned schools from requiring masks.

The Hill has reached out to representatives from the Alachua and Broward County school districts for comment.