The Florida State Board of Education issued orders to the Alachua County School Board and Broward County School Board instructing them to “follow the law” and comply with an executive order and emergency rule that restricts local educational agencies in the state from requiring students and staff to wear masks in schools.
Both counties require students and staff to wear masks in schools without providing parents the opportunity to opt-out, which state officials say is in direct violation of an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis that restricts mask mandates in schools, as well as a Florida Department of Health Emergency Rule that requires LEAs to allow parents to opt the student out of wearing a mask.
The orders give both LEAs 48 hours to document compliance with the executive order and rule. Failure to document compliance with the requirements will lead to the state withholding an amount equal to the school board members’ salaries from state funds to the school district. The order also requires the districts to document any instance of “enforcement of the unlawful face-covering mandate policy against a student, including, but not limited to, instances of a student being sent home, reassigned, disciplined, suspended, isolated, stigmatized, warned or harassed because of the student’s failure to comply with the [school board’s] unlawful face-covering mandate policy.”
“We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” said Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in a statement following the board’s actions. “These are the initial consequences to their intentional refusal to follow state law and state rule to purposefully and willingly violate the rights of parents.
Several other school districts in the state, including Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Palm Beach County School District, have recently announced they are requiring universal mask-wearing.
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The state board’s actions come after the federal Education Department and White House weighed in on laws and executive orders that restrict school districts from requiring universal mask-wearing as a mitigation measure during the latest outbreak of COVID-19. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sent letters to the governors of Florida and Texas on Aug. 13, and Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah on Aug. 18 denouncing the states’ limits on universal mask requirements and promising support for local educational agencies that implement the recommended Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 mitigation measures, including wearing masks.
President Biden also issued a Memorandum on Ensuring a Safe Return to In-Person School for the Nation’s Children on Aug. 18 that called for the U.S. Education Department to use all available tools to ensure “governors and other officials are taking all appropriate steps to prepare for a safe return to school for our Nation’s children, including not standing in the way of local leaders making such preparations,” including “possible enforcement actions under applicable laws.”
Cardona issued a statement in support of Alachua and Broward Counties following the state board of education’s actions on Aug. 20 to “reassure them that the President and his Administration stand with them and with all educators who put student and staff health and education first.”
“We stand ready to assist any district facing repercussions for imposing CDC-recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies that will protect the health and safety of students, educators, and staff,” he added.
—Charles Hendrix covers education funding and other Title I issues for LRP Publications.
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