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.