The Florida Board of Education is ordering Broward County to comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning mask mandates within 48 hours.
In a letter sent to the Broward County School Board on Friday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said both Broward County and Alachua County must comply within 48 hours before both counties could face sanctions.
“It is important to remember that this issue is about ensuring local school board members, elected politicians, follow the law. These public officials have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida. We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” Corcoran said in a statement.
If the counties do not comply, they are ordered to provide the state with information on the “current annual compensation provided to all school board members.”
“The Florida Department of Education will then begin to withhold from state funds, on a monthly basis, an amount equal to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of the school board members who voted to impose the unlawful mask mandates until each district demonstrates compliance,” a statement from the state of Florida read in part.
One Broward board member and former teacher, Sarah Leonardi, says that the sanctions would be "financially pain but is sticking to her guns.
"It certainly hurts but losing another employee or a child would hurt exponentially more," Leonardi said.
The chair of the Broward County School Board, Rosalind Osgood, didn't mince words.
"I’m just perplexed to understand how the governor of the state of Florida would want to defund education in Florida when local school districts are trying to protect students," Osgood said.
She says the board plans on giving a written response by Tuesday but aren’t backing down.
"We will continue to do what we think is the right thing to do to protect our kids," Osgood said.
In a tweet, President Joe Biden said he will use funds from the American Rescue Plan to backfill the salaries of school board members and educators if the state withholds funds.
In another statement, the Broward County School Board said they believe their district is in compliance.
"We have provided exceptions to the mask mandate for our students with IEPs or Section 504 plans, and for those who have a medical condition and provide signed documentation from a licensed medical professional," the statement read.
The statement continued to say the Broward school board feels DeSantis is "overreaching his authority."
The Broward Teachers Union expressed a similar sentiment.
"We decry our state government for using blackmail against our board members by withholding their salaries," Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said in a statement.
"Today, the governor, the Commissioner of Education and the Department of Education all overstepped their power. Instead of doing everything they can to keep our students and employees safe during a raging pandemic, they are punishing our brave school board members for doing their job of educating students in the safest possible environment," the Fusco statement said.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona issued a statement Friday which said he spoke to the Superintendents of both Broward and Alachua County schools to "reassure them that the President and his Administration stand them and with all educators who put student and staff health and education first."
Any financial penalties levied by the state to districts implementing CDC-recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies can be addressed immediately using federal pandemic relief funding, the statement from Cardona said.
The Broward County School Board voted 8 to 1 to require masks at a meeting August 10th, where they said parents who want to opt out can do so with a medical waiver when the new school year started Wednesday.
DeSantis has insisted that the decision about wearing masks should be made by parents.
Florida’s Board of Education approved an emergency rule earlier in August granting private school vouchers for children who feel they are being harassed by a district’s COVID-19 safety policies, including mask requirements.
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