As another salvo was fired Friday in the showdown between the state Education Department and the Broward School District, the Biden administration indicated it stands ready to back up those school districts willing to insist on mandatory masks.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has vowed to punish school districts that interfere with parents’ right to choose whether their child wears a mask to school. Hours after the Broward County School Board reaffirmed their vote for mandatory student masks on Tuesday, the district was officially put on notice that the state was prepared to withhold an amount of aid equal to the salary of the superintendent and School Board members.
The state gave the district until 5 p.m., Friday to explain how Broward County schools would be complying with the Governor’s emergency order. Its answer? Bring on the investigation.
The letter, signed by Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright and School Board Chairwoman Rosalind Osgood, cites the responsibility the district has to educate students with disabilities, along with the skyrocketing numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the county.
“Prioritizing parent-choice over safety and the advice of health experts in the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics threatens the safety in schools and does not promote a secure environment for students; thus, it is in direct violation of the Florida Constitutional mandates,” the letter to Richard Corcoran, state education commissioner says.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote in his own letter dated Friday that the administration has the backs of school districts ready to take on DeSantis and he praised defiant school leaders’ courage. Alachua County also started school requiring students to wear masks, unless they have a note from the doctor.
“I want you to know that the U.S. Department of Education stands with you,” Cardona wrote. “Your decisions are vital to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instructions, and they are undoubtedly in the best interest of your students.”
Federal money could be used to offset any financial penalty that mask-mandating districts may face from Tallahassee, Cardona wrote.
The letter marks the sharpest-yet pushback by the Biden administration to the state policies, and come days after the president indicated he did not believe he had direct authority to overturn the governors’ actions.