Marta Lavandier / AP
Despite a judge’s ruling Friday that the Florida governor’s ban on mask mandates in schools is unconstitutional, the State Board of Education has gone ahead with its threat to withhold school board salaries in districts that require face clothing in classrooms.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced that school board members in Alachua and Broward counties will not receive a paycheck from the Department of Education this month, saying their mandatory face-mask policy violates parental rights. The board will keep the funds until each school board complies with Governor Ron DeSantis’ now-overturned executive order.
“We are going to fight to protect the rights of parents to make health care decisions for their children,” Corcoran said in a announcement on Monday. “They know what’s best for their children.”
“What is unacceptable are the politicians who have raised their right hands and promised under oath to uphold the constitution but do not. Simply put, elected officials cannot choose which laws they want to follow,” Corcoran said.
It is unclear whether other counties will be punished
Local reports indicates that several other school districts have implemented mask mandates, including Orange, Duval, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Palm Beach, Indian River, and Leon Counties. It is unclear whether school board members in these counties will also have their salaries withheld.
The bitter battle unfolds as a rash of COVID-19 infections sweeping across Florida, including among children who are not eligible for vaccination. On Monday, officials reported 18,608 new cases.
DeSanti’s opposition stems from the lack of parental control. He argues that under current Florida law, parents must be free to opt out of student mask requirements. However, the rules in force in Alachua and Broward counties allow only a medical exemption from a physician.
DeSantis, which blocked the mask mandates on July 30, warned that “there will be consequences” for districts that defied the ban.
A judge said DeSantis’ ruling lacked authority
But on Friday, after a four-day trial, Judge John Cooper ruled in favor of parents who sued, arguing that DeSantis exceeded his authority by banning the face-cover requirement, saying it could not be enforced. He noted that face mask mandates, which follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are “reasonable and in accordance with the best scientific and medical opinion in this country.”
Cooper also added that DeSantis’ ruling “has no legal basis.”
DeSantis is appealing the decision and on Monday called Cooper’s decision “obviously problematic”.
The move could potentially get federal attention
The decision to withhold funding from Alachua and Broward could open the state to further legal problems.
On Monday, the Ministry of Education was the Office of Civil Rights announced it had launched a five-state study “that examined whether the worldwide ban on universal indoor masking discriminates against students with disabilities.”
At the time, the OCR said it had refrained from opening investigations in Florida, Texas, Arkansas or Arizona “because these states’ bans on universal indoor masking are not currently enforced as a result of legal orders or other government action.”
However, officials said they would continue to monitor these states and take action “if state leaders prevent local schools or districts from implementing universal indoor masking, or if current court decisions were to be reversed.”
It is unclear whether Florida’s decision not to pay school board members will trigger an investigation. The Department of Education did not immediately return NPR’s requests for comment.