Politico

Florida agency says state can dock pay from school districts with mask mandates


TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s Board of Education on Friday cleared the way for the state to slowly bleed the pay of local school board members who voted to mandate masks for students, marking the first sanctions on those who have defied DeSantis administration orders.

The state board gave school leaders in Broward and Alachua counties 48 hours to reverse their mask requirements, or the Florida Department of Education can begin stripping salaries from their education budget, according to documents first obtained by POLITICO. Five school districts across Florida, representing more than 1 million students, are bucking the DeSantis administration’s mask policies and are now exposed to similar punishment.

The noncompliance from local school boards and their “knowing failure to follow the law” denies “parents and legal guardians of their right to make fundamental health and educational decisions for their children by choosing whether their children should be masked in public schools,” the state Board of Education wrote in the order.

Along with Alachua and Broward, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Palm Beach counties are requiring mask for students despite orders from DeSantis attempting to block the mandates. Sarasota County’s school board is holding an emergency meeting Friday afternoon to consider its own mask mandate for students.

The Biden administration said last week that school districts could use federal Covid-19 relief to backfill school budgets that get slashed for requiring face coverings, a move that seemed to soften the possible blow of losing state cash over mandates. Earlier this week, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran urged the state board to disregard the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to intervene in the local mask scrap.

The political fight over mask-wearing comes just as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads and a growing number of children are being hospitalized from Covid-19.

The state board authorized Corcoran to withhold 1/12 of the total annual compensation for Broward and Alachua board members on a monthly basis, a penalty they warn is “an initial step.”

Superintendents in both counties are responsible for compiling a report documenting how the school district is enforcing its “unlawful face covering mandate policy.” This would include listing any cases where a student was sent home, disciplined, isolated or stigmatized over face coverings.

The reports will be continuous until Broward comes into compliance with state rules, which require school districts to offer students the ability to opt-out of any mask mandates.

Officials in Alachua County indicated Friday that their mask mandate would stay put. Broward County Public Schools officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

“We will be working on a response, but we plan to stay the course,” Jackie Johnson, director of communications and community initiatives for Alachua County Public Schools, said in an interview.

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