2 Florida districts fined for mask mandates, superintendent vows to strike back
A Florida superintendent says she and administrators in other school systems are gearing up to take legal action after being fined by the state Monday over their mask mandates.
The State Board of Education has withheld the monthly salaries of Alachua and Broward county school board members who voted for mask mandates even though a judge ruled last week that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on requiring face coverings violated the state’s Constitution.
Statement from Supt. @DrCarleeSimon: "I'm very troubled by the state's action. Our School Board members made a courageous decision to protect the health and lives of students, staff and the people of this community, and a court has already ruled they had the legal right to do so.
— Alachua Schools (@AlachuaSchools) August 31, 2021
Alachua County Superintendent Carlee Simon was not backing down Tuesday morning. “They deserve praise, not penalties,” Simon tweeted about her school board members. “We have already begun working with our colleagues in other districts to take legal action.”
The State Board of Education levied the fines only against Alachua and Broward even though at least a dozen Florida districts have mandated masks as the state grapples with a historic surge of the delta variant.
Two of those districts mandated masks on the same day as the state’s announcement. On Monday, Brevard County Public Schools implemented universal masking for at least the next 30 days. The School District of Lee County also mandated masks, with no opt-out option, WINKnews.com reported.
In announcing the fines, Florida Commissioner Education Richard Corcoran threatened additional actions against districts sticking by their mask mandates.
“We’re going to fight to protect parents’ rights to make health-care decisions for their children. They know what is best for their children,” Corcoran said in a statement. “What’s unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”
Alachua and Broward are prohibited from reducing any expenditures other than those related to compensation for school board members. Corcoran also said he and the State Board of Education “retain the right and duty to impose additional sanctions and take additional enforcement action to bring each school district into compliance with state law and rule.”
Corcoran’s announced the fines on the same day that the U.S. Department of Education announced that it was investigating mask mandate bans in five states for potentially violating the civil rights of students with disabilities who are at greater risk for severe COVID.
The probe focuses on Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. Florida was not included because of the judge’s ruling against DeSantis.