Florida officials dole out first sanctions on school districts defying DeSantis’ mask order

The Florida Department of Education is set to sanction a pair of public school districts after they implemented mandatory mask-wearing to begin the current academic year in defiance of an executive order from GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis banning such mandates.

“These districts, maybe while well-intentioned, have not followed the protocols,” Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said during a Tuesday board meeting. “They have to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not.”

The two districts, in Alachua and Broward counties, won’t permit parents to make the decision on whether to mask their children or not, per DeSantis’ order. In addition, the districts are requiring notes from doctors to get kids out of masking.

The sanctions against the two districts are the first levied by state officials. It’s not clear yet what those sanctions will be, as the board will lay them out following a further investigation.

Tom Grady, chairman of the Board of Education, said they could include removing school officials from their positions, withholding their pay, or both.

But at the same time, another major school district — Miami-Dade County Public Schools — is expected on Wednesday to announce a mask mandate ahead of classes set to begin in days.

In July, DeSantis signed an executive order banning the state’s school districts from imposing a mask mandate on children returning to classrooms in the fall. His order came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance saying that all teachers and students should don masks this year even if they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19.

“The federal government has no right to tell parents that in order for their kids to attend school in person, they must be forced to wear a mask all day, every day,” DeSantis noted in a statement in late July after signing his order.

“Many Florida schoolchildren have suffered under forced masking policies, and it is prudent to protect the ability of parents to make decisions regarding the wearing of masks by their children,” he added.

DeSantis noted further that he made his decision to issue the order so that parental rights would be protected while also serving notice to the Biden administration’s “unscientific and inconsistent recommendations that school-aged children wear masks.”

The Florida Board of Education’s announcement of sanctions came as the Republican governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, threatened to withhold funding for schools in his state if they defied his mask mandate ban.

“Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged — mandates that place more stress on students and families aren’t,” Ducey noted in a statement. “These grants acknowledge efforts by schools and educators that are following state laws and keeping their classroom doors open for Arizona’s students.”

Offending districts have 10 days to reverse their mandates or risk not qualifying for a $163 million school grant program that provides some $1,800 in funding per student.

DeSantis has faced unrelenting criticism from the Biden administration including from the president himself over his executive actions barring COVID-related mandates in his state, but he’s given back as good as he’s gotten.

“Why don’t you do your job?” the GOP governor and 2024 presidential favorite told a news conference in early August, in a direct clap back at President Biden.

“Why don’t you get this border secure? And until you do that, I don’t wanna hear a blip about COVID from you, thank you.”

Jon Dougherty

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