The Florida State Board of Education voted to direct the Education Commissioner to consider sanctions against Broward and Alachua counties over their mask mandates.
The vote was taken during an emergency meeting Tuesday.
State Board of Education Chair, Tom Grady, asked the board to authorize and direct the commissioner to investigate further and take all the legal steps to enforce the board rules of the Department of Health and laws that have been "duly enacted by the legislature in accordance with the Florida Constitution."
The chairman added that although this may include withholding funds from the district, "I would add a footnote that I do not want to withhold funds that would harm any child in any district."
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However, the sanctions could also withhold salaries and remove officers from school districts. Commissioner Richard Corcoran said a memo should be out Wednesday or Thursday with an explanation regarding those sanctions.
In a Tuesday memorandum to the district, Corcoran wrote that he believes there is probable cause Broward's school board and interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright "acted contrary to the law."
"If the State Board of Education determines that a district is unwilling or able to comply with the law or state board rule, it is authorized to impose sanctions in order to secure compliance, including the withholding of funds and reporting to the legislature," the memo read in part.
Schools and COVID
The superintendents from both Broward County and Alachua County spoke during the emergency meeting and both argued their districts were in compliance and did not violate the rules.
Last week, the Broward school board voted 8-1 to require masks for students and teachers when they return Wednesday for the 2021-22 school year. Parents who want to opt out can do so with a medical waiver.
“Kudos to our administration and the district for leading the charge on that and making sure that everyone is going to be safe coming back to school," said algebra teacher Jennifer Simplice.
The decision was made in defiance of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' attempts to block schools from imposing mandates. The Republican governor has insisted that the decision about wearing masks should be made by parents.
“We know the reality of this pandemic that’s killing people or leaving them dramatically impacted with life-long implications. About 48,000 of our children under 12 don’t have an option for a vaccine," said Dr. Rosalind Osgood of the Broward school board. "As we continue to work, we will continue to bring these policies. It will be ongoing as the nature of this pandemic changes.”
In Miami-Dade County Public Schools, a task force of medical experts recommended that students should be required to wear masks when they return to classrooms next week. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho agreed and the school board was expected to approve the measure on Wednesday.
Carvalho has stood by implementing mask mandates under the guidance of medical experts and not politicians
DeSantis’ office said that the state’s Board of Education could move to withhold salaries from superintendents or school board members who impose mask mandates.
Over the weekend, President Joe Biden called school district superintendents in Florida and Arizona, including Cartwright, to "thank them for their leadership and discuss their shared commitment to getting all students back in safe, full-time in-person learning this school year" after their respective boards implemented mask requirements in defiance of their Republican governors amid growing COVID-19 infections.
“The President commended their leadership and courage to do the right thing for the health and well-being of their students, teachers, and schools,” a statement from the White House said.
The Biden administration has promised Broward federal money if Florida's governor carries out a threat to withhold some state funds from any school district that imposes a mask mandate.