The Florida Department of Education is making good on its promise to punish school districts that enact mask mandates, giving two districts 48 hours to overturn their orders or else the state will pull funding equal to the salaries of school board members who voted to require students and staff to wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The Department of Education said as “an initial step” that it would cut funding to the school districts of Broward County in south Florida and Alachua County in the north-central part of the state on a monthly basis that is equal to the salaries of board members who voted for the mandates, but could “impose additional sanctions and take additional enforcement” measures against school districts that keep mandates in place.
The local mandates are in direct violation of an order from Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who declared all school districts in the state “mask-optional.”
On Tuesday, the state Board of Education voted unanimously to impose sanctions on local districts that don’t comply with the governor’s orders.
“We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in a statement. “This is simply unacceptable behavior.”
Florida is leading the nation in new Covid-19 cases with almost 24,000 reported per day, according to a New York Times tracker. The state’s new case load, hospitalizations and deaths are all at record levels, but DeSantis’ staunchly anti-restriction views are showing no signs of changing. If anything, the governor is getting tougher on his stance against restrictions, through actions like preventing masks in schools. Districts that have chosen to defy the governor’s orders say that the mandates are necessary to ensure the health of the state’s children, who are being infected by the delta variant at a higher rate than previous variants of the coronavirus. The state leads the nation in children hospitalized with Covid-19, according to the CDC, averaging 54 new hospitalizations a day during the past week.
Earlier this month, the Florida State Board of Education unanimously approved a rule change giving students who claim to be victims of “COVID-19 harassment” access to scholarship funds that would cover their tuition if they choose to transfer to a private school. The scholarship, called the Hope Scholarship, was originally designed to allow victims of bullying the ability to transfer. “COVID-19 harassment,” from being asked to wear a mask or socially distance, is now listed as an eligible claim for the scholarship, alongside the likes of physical attack, kidnapping and sexual offenses.