State Board of Education rules Broward, Alachua mask policies unlawful
Image via AP.

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But there's not much the state can do about it.

The State Board of Education ruled two school districts that implemented mask requirements are being unlawful, but those districts may not face any punishment after the federal government said it would back the school districts.

At a State Board of Education emergency meeting Tuesday, Board members voted Alachua and Broward school districts had violated state laws.

But the state’s course of action to punish the two school districts, to be decided by the Department of Education, is still unknown.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran addressed the Board before members’ votes.

“We have districts that are picking and choosing what laws they want to follow. That is in violation of the rule of law, which makes this country great and special more than any other reason,” Corcoran said.

The meeting fell short of a victory for Corcoran who sounded annoyed that the state’s proposed punishment for the school districts had already been thwarted by President Joe Biden.

“I’ll try to choose my words wisely,” Corcoran said before going on to complain about a “last minute” letter that offered federal funding to school districts facing financial penalties for implementing mask policies that follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

The state’s plan to withhold funding in the amount of school board members’ and superintendents’ salaries who violated the state’s school mask policies was undercut last Friday when U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sent a letter to Corcoran stating the affected school districts could use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds from the American Rescue Plan to backfill withheld salaries.

Broward County Public Schools’ Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said she had been in contact with Cardona and Biden gave her a call about the school mask issue.

“I spoke with President Biden, and basically he just expressed words of comfort and support,” Cartwright said, adding Biden asked her how the community was responding to the decision by the Broward County School Board to require masks.

Tuesday’s address to the Board was the first time Corcoran spoke publicly about the Biden administration’s decision to support the offending school districts.

“Now we have the Biden administration, and it’s no coincidence that it’s Florida. They talk more about our Governor and this state in their press conferences than any other state. We wonder why,” Corcoran said.

It seemed to sting Corcoran that the U.S. Department of Educations’s offer to use America Rescue Plan funds to backfill budgets for penalized school districts came after the same Department would not approve of the way Florida planned to use those federal funds for $1,000 teacher bonuses.

“Now they have the audacity to send us a letter that basically says that the districts can use ESSER funds to backfill the part-time school board members and the superintendent if they engage in this behavior? Not even on the front lines. I mean, the highest hypocrisy,” Corcoran said.

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent, Carlee Simon said Corcoran’s desire to punish the school districts defies rationale.

“The punitive approach of the Commissioner is driven by a need for compliance regardless of rationale,” Simon said.

Corcoran, in a written letter outlining probable cause, argued because Broward and Alachua school districts required masks and did not allow sufficient opportunity for parents to opt-out, the school districts violated two laws: The Parents’ Bill of Rights and the Department of Health’s emergency rule that requires schools to allow a student to opt-out for wearing a masks.

Simon argued no state law was violated because a medical exemption in Alachua school district’s mask policy did allow for opt-outs.

“It doesn’t have to be entirely a physical condition. It could also have anxiety associated, but we do need this to be signed by a qualifying medical provider,” Simon explained.

Broward County Public Schools’ policy also allowed for medical opt-outs, but Cartwright said the state did not meet the necessary requirements to enact an emergency rule anyway.

“The rule that the Department of Health put out is lacking specificity,” Cartwright said.

Simon, in defending her school districts’ policy, also pointed to another opt-out allowance made possible by an emergency rule recently adopted by the State Board of Education that said students can use a Hope Scholarship to move schools if they don’t want to abide by a mask requirement.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was given one minute to speak at the meeting. Fried vowed to continue to work with the Biden administration to thwart attempts to punish school districts that implement mask requirements and suggested the courts won’t be on the state’s side either.

“I will continue to work with the White House to refund schools and make sure history records your unconstitutional, partisan decision. But I assure you that if you remove these duly-elected constitutional officers it will not hold up in the court,” Fried said.

Haley Brown

Haley Brown covers state government for FloridaPolitics.com. Previously, Haley covered the West Virginia Legislature and anchored weekend newscasts for WVVA in Bluefield, W.Va. Haley is a Florida native and a graduate of the University of Florida. You can reach her at [email protected]


5 comments

  • Frankie M.

    August 17, 2021 at 7:24 pm

    Shocking. Did they really need to go thru the charade of holding a “meeting” to come to this determination. It sounds like they had already decided what they were going to do before they even met.

  • Frankie M.

    August 17, 2021 at 7:30 pm

    “Now we have the Biden administration, and it’s no coincidence that it’s Florida. They talk more about our Governor and this state in their press conferences than any other state. We wonder why,” Corcoran said.

    Maybe it’s because we are a hotspot for covid…and we’re proud of that?

  • PeterH

    August 17, 2021 at 8:33 pm

    Fun Fact:

    The Florida State Board of Education is interpreting the DeSantis executive order. They DO NOT interpret the law.

    Last week eight students at an Indiana University petitioned the US Supreme Court on a vaccine mandate the school imposed ….. THE STUDENTS LOST.

    Obviously, the wingnut Board of Education doesn’t believe in precedent …… but they will soon enough.

    And in other news from the Republican Party’s painful attachment to stupid…… Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tests positive for Covid-19!

    Real conservatives who want to see their Republican Party take a different path ….. should join fellow conservatives at The Lincoln Project.

  • Anna

    August 18, 2021 at 1:13 am

    My neighbor’s aunt makes 62 every hour on the internet..i she has been without work for eight months but the previous month her revenue was 19022 only working on the laptop 5 hours a day..

    check this …… …. http://SwagTip.com

  • Sonja Fitch

    August 18, 2021 at 5:13 am

    Stfu! Interpretation that protecting our children is against the law! Total damn bs! Ed chair and board go spend one hour in an pediatric ICU! Then reconvene! You are charged with serving and protecting our children. Lock up every board member and the big boy Corcoran!

Comments are closed.


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