Education Department gives Broward Schools until Friday to comply with mask mandate ban
What made Tampa Bay area schools so resilient during the pandemic? Image via Hillsborough County Schools/Facebook.

hillsborough county schools
Alachua and Leon County schools received similar threats.

After the strongest move to defy Gov. Ron DeSanits‘ executive order banning student mask mandates, Broward County schools received a threat from the state’s Education Department.

On Tuesday, the Broward County School Board made masks for students mandatory. And in a swift response, the Florida Education Department responded by asking the Board to backtrack: The Board has until 5 p.m. Friday to report the resolution of conflicts between the emergency order and the mandate, according to the letter dated Tuesday from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

“Depending on the facts presented, I may recommend to the State Board of Education that the department withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for the Superintendent and all the members of the School Board,” Corcoran wrote. “There is no room for error or leniency when it comes to ensuring compliance with policies that allow parents and guardians to make health and educational choices for their children.”

DeSantis issued the executive order two days after Broward County first moved to make student masks mandatory. He gave parents the final say on whether their children come to school masked. And most school districts that have a mandatory masks policy also have an opt-out for parents willing to fill out paperwork.

School Board members Tuesday — meeting in response to the Governor’s order — decried DeSantis’ action. They said it undermines local control and their ability to make rules based on local circumstances. The state has become the epicenter of COVID-19 outbreaks. And School Board members say they face a unique set of circumstances because the district is one of the largest in the country, faced with protecting the safety of nearly 500,000 students, staff, administrators and vendors.

“I can’t in good conscience put a value on the life of a student,” School Board Chairwoman Rosalind Osgood said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Leon and Alachua counties received similar letters from the state Education Department Monday.

These defiant school boards are getting some support for their stances. State Senate Democratic leaders Tuesday announced a GoFundMe campaign to raise private funds so that no School Board members or superintendents miss a check because of defying DeSantis.

Corcoran said he would be initiating an investigation into Broward’s non-compliance immediately. The Board’s vote requires that anyone opting out of the mask policy must produce a doctor’s note explaining why. And that conflicts with the order, Corcoran wrote.

A request for a response from the Broward School District was not available Wednesday morning.

Broward County schools start Aug. 18.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]

One comment

  • PeterH

    August 11, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    The courts will side with the Broward School Board and other Counties will follow with a mask mandate. There will be no salaries withheld from anyone defying Governor DeSantis.

    Most Americans like government to seamlessly work in the background of their busy daily lives. Like the Governor’s incompetent mentor Donald Trump…..DeSantis insists on a presenting Floridians with a weekly disruptive conflict filled agenda that will eventually be reversed with court action. Let’s keep in mind that Ron DeSantis has every intention of doing for the USA what he has attempted to do for Florida.

    Real conservatives might want to consider advancing an authentic conservative agenda at the Lincoln Project or other “never Trump” organizations. The current GOP MUST be destroyed so it can be rebuilt.

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