It was all done on a conference call, and the outcome was pre-ordained.
The Florida Board of Education voted unanimously to penalize eight school districts, including Miami-Dade and Broward, which Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, said are guilty of mandating masks instead of making them optional.
“Districts are required to follow these policies, they can’t pick and choose which parts of the law they want to follow,” Corcoran said.
Each superintendent had five minutes each to make their case to the Board. All of them said they were guided by science and the state constitution, which gives locally-elected school boards the power to regulate their own schools.
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The state says the Parents Bill of Rights law, along with an order from the state’s new surgeon general, compel school districts to allow parents to decide whether their children need to wear masks in schools.
“Miami-Dade is committed to parent choice and to parents rights, but we recognize with rights come responsibilities, a responsibility to each other; Florida law allows parents to make decisions about their own child, but does not afford the right to harm another,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Board. “We know that masks reduce viral spread, those who say otherwise are misinformed or misguided.”
Carvalho said his district will continue to follow CDC guidelines, as did Broward superintendent, Dr. Vickie Cartwright, who said her school board mandated masks to follow the state’s directive to keep as many kids healthy and in school as possible.
Schools and COVID
“The district actions referenced in your letter received October 4th were taken with the explicit purpose of mitigating the spread of Covid19 cases in our schools and preventing unnecessary removal of students from our schools because of positive cases,” Cartwright said. “It is worth noting that the Parents Bill of Rights does not grant rule-making authority to the Department of Health nor the Department of Education, it is also important to note it does not give unfettered rights to the parents.”
Earlier in the day, Florida Secretary of Agriculture Nikki Fried weighed in on this issue.
“Ron DeSantis is lying to you about masks in schools,” Fried said in a virtual news conference.
Fried said her office compiled COVID-19 case data which she claims the governor has been trying to keep hidden.
“We found four times more kids per capita got COVID-19 in school districts without mask requirements than school districts that required masks,” Fried said, going over various data points.
In response, Governor DeSantis’ spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, sent us a statement that says in part, “Conducting research on infectious diseases is not the competence of the agriculture commissioner… DOH data on pediatric case rates in different counties shows no significant difference between forced masking and mask optional districts…”
The Department of Health issued a news release saying Fried’s analysis is skewed and unscientific, calling it “misinformation.”
Fried said the DeSantis administration is punishing school districts for political reasons. The state will now defund each of the eight school districts by the combined amount of the school board members’ salaries in each district.
That process already started in Broward, and the Biden Administration reimburse Broward County Public Schools by the same amount. Corcoran called that “egregious” and said if it happens again, the state will penalize the receiving district by the same amount of money.
None of the sanctioned districts said they will change their COVID-19 protocols.