Florida education officials on Tuesday ruled that the Broward and Alachua county school districts had issued mask mandates in violation of state law, with officials voting unanimously to consider penalties for the districts.
The Florida Board of Education determined that the school officials should be investigated and potentially punished, as Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran noted they were not complying with state law.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order late last month making mask-wearing optional in the state’s public schools after the CDC issued new guidance earlier this week recommending that teachers, staff, and students wear face coverings indoors — even if they are vaccinated.
He said he would withhold money from districts that require students and staff to wear masks.
Now, the board is considering penalties for school officials that could include withholding funding and removing school officials.
The board’s chairman, Tom Grady, said during an emergency online meeting that the board had to determine whether the counties violated state law.
“The issue isn’t whether or not mandates or masks are good or bad,” he said.
Meanwhile, last week the Biden administration wrote to Corcoran and DeSantis to say that federal funds could be offered to school administrators who are punished by the state over mask mandates.
“My recommendation is every school superintendent have to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not,” Corcoran said in response to the letter on Tuesday.
During the public comment period of the meeting, Florida agriculture commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried called in to criticize the board.
“Shame on all of you,” Fried said. “How embarrassing that you may be more afraid of the governor than you are for the lives of our children and teachers who are already getting sick and dying in record numbers.”
Broward County interim schools superintendent Vickie Cartwright told the board that the county has just five open pediatric ICU beds as the highly-transmissive delta variant continues to spread.
Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, defended the district’s mandate, arguing that it does not violate the state’s requirements because parents can opt-out by transferring their children to private schools using Florida’s Hope Scholarship voucher program.
Board member Ben Gibson responded that the program was meant for students experiencing harassment related to COVID-19 safety protocols and that the process to receive the voucher is “burdensome.”
Mask orders and mandatory vaccines have been given renewed consideration as concern grows over the highly contagious delta variant. The new variant is spreading rapidly in areas with low vaccination rates.
While children under the age of twelve are not currently eligible to be vaccinated, National Review has previously reported that unvaccinated children have a lower risk of death or serious outcome from COVID-19 than vaccinated people in their 30s do.
“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 after announcing the order prohibiting mask mandates. “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.”
“In Florida, there will be no lockdowns, there will be no school closures. There will be no restrictions and no mandates in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said.