Broward Public Schools Keeping Mask Mandate After State Withholds Funding

The school board was expected to revisit the mask mandate after the Labor Day holiday to look at COVID-19 data and see if it needs to continue

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Broward County Public Schools will be keeping their mask mandate in place for the time being after Florida's Commissioner of Education announced that the state was withholding funding from the district over the policy.

Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced Monday that the Florida Department of Education has withheld an amount equal to monthly school board member salaries in Broward and Alachua counties, after they defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates in schools. Funds will continue to be withheld until the districts comply, Corcoran said.

At a school board meeting Tuesday, interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright said the mask mandate would remain in place, and said she believes they are complying with state law.

"We believe we are in compliance and we continue to receive legal advisement that we are in compliance to the rules as well as to the order that was put out there," Cartwright said at Tuesday's meeting. "In the spirit of cooperation we are continuing to comply with the sanctions that have been imposed from the commissioner regarding our daily reporting of students who face a consequence for not wearing a mask."

Cartwright said the school board was expected to revisit the mask mandate after the Labor Day holiday to look at COVID-19 data and see if it needs to continue.

“The governor can’t control our payroll, he can deduct that amount from what the school district is allocated,” said Rosalind Osgood, chairman of the Broward County School Board.

Osgood said that means the state is taking $31,000 away from the district every month, a fraction of what the district receives overall.

“We need additional staff and support, we are having to provide mental health services on another level,” said Osgood.

In a statement, Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco called the withholding of funding "disrespectful."

"It is totally disrespectful for the governor and education commissioner to move forward with withholding school board members’ salaries because they voted for a mask mandate in Broward County Public Schools," the statement read. "Their behavior is reckless and is an affront to the decent school board members who are doing everything they can to minimize the transmission of the virus and its Delta variant."

The Florida Department of Education has withheld the monthly salaries of school board members in Broward and Alachua counties over their mandatory mask mandates.

Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez said Tuesday the state will win when it appeals the judge’s decision. School board members say losing money isn’t worth losing lives.

“If I lose my salary and I’m able to sleep at night knowing that I didn’t cause someone to lose their life or be left with a lifelong complication, it gives me a moral completeness I need as an individual,” said Osgood.

Cartwright says masks are working, saying the number of students and teachers quarantined in Broward County leveled off around 4,000. She says that is fewer than the number smaller school districts had in quarantine, that started without a mask mandate.

A Tallahassee circuit judge on Friday agreed with a group of parents who argued in a lawsuit that DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced. Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said an executive order issued by DeSantis that served as the basis for the health department's emergency rule is without legal authority.

Cooper said his ruling wouldn't go into effect until it is put into writing, which was expected to happen Tuesday.

The governor’s office has said that Cooper’s decision wasn’t based on the law, and the state will appeal it.

NBC 6 and AP
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