Florida levies first punishments on schools for mask mandates
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The Florida Board of Education voted unanimously to sanction two public school districts that are mandating mask wearing, defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive order banning such requirements.
“These districts, maybe while well-intentioned, have not followed the protocols,” said Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran during the education board meeting Tuesday. “They have to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not.”
The DeSantis administration says the two districts, Alachua and Broward, do not allow parents the freedom to choose whether their children wear masks and require doctor’s notes in order to get around masking.
The sanctions, which are the first punishments levied against schools in the state, will be specified after further investigation. Education board chairman Tom Grady, however, said the sanctions could include withholding school officials’ salaries and removing them from their job posts.
Meanwhile, the largest district in the state, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, is expected to consider imposing a mask mandate on Wednesday.
DeSantis signed an executive order in July making mask-wearing optional in public schools, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated mask guidance recommending all teachers and students to mask up, regardless of vaccination status.
“The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day,” DeSantis said in a statement at the end of July. “Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children.”
The governor’s office said the move was to help protect parents’ rights to choose what coronavirus practices are best for their children, while also serving as a response to the Biden administration’s “unscientific and inconsistent recommendations that school-aged children wear masks.”
The Tuesday Florida school board vote came on the same day Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced his state is blocking funds from going to schools with mask mandates unless they reverse course and follow the state’s ban on such requirements.
“Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged — mandates that place more stress on students and families aren’t,” Ducey said in a statement. “These grants acknowledge efforts by schools and educators that are following state laws and keeping their classroom doors open for Arizona’s students.”
School districts will now have 10 days from Tuesday to repeal masks mandates in order to qualify for a $163 million school grant program that gives schools $1,800 per student.
DeSantis, who is a favorite among Republican voters for the 2024 presidential race, has long been criticized by liberals and the media for his coronavirus response. But the Republican governor has stuck by his policies and slammed the Biden administration this month for criticizing his coronavirus response while importing “more virus from around the world by having a wide open southern border.”
“Why don’t you do your job?” the Florida Republican said during a press conference at the beginning of August. “Why don’t you get this border secure? And until you do that, I don’t wanna hear a blip about COVID from you, thank you.”
“This is a guy who ran for office saying he’s going to shut down the virus,” DeSantis added. “And what has he done? He’s imported more virus from around the world by having a wide open southern border.”
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