One state’s superintendents are risking pay cuts over mask mandates

Austin ISD becomes second Texas district to defy a governor's prohibition of mask mandates
By: | August 10, 2021

Superintendents or school board members could have their salaries withheld for violating Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order restricting school mask mandates.

Half a dozen Florida districts have announced mask requirements despite DeSantis’ July 30 order saying funding could be withheld from school systems that do not allow parents to choose whether children wear masks as they return to classrooms amid the new COVID surge driven by the delta variant.

On Monday, DeSantis’ office clarified that the State Board of Education would tie financial penalties “to the offense committed.”

“For example, the State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law,” the statement said.

“Education funding is intended to benefit students first and foremost, not systems. The Governor’s priorities are protecting parents’ rights and ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality education that meets their unique needs.”

Penalties would not apply to Florida districts, such as Hillsborough County Public Schools, that are allowing parents to opt-out of mask mandates for any reason.

However, the Biden administration may step in to cover any salary cuts assessed by the state of Florida:

Turbulence in Texas, too

Florida is not the only state where large districts are defying a governor’s prohibition of mask mandates. Austin ISD Monday night became the second large Texas district, after Dallas ISD, to require universal masking, regardless of an individual’s age or vaccination status.

“I am responsible for the safety, health and welfare of each and every one of our students and our staff. If I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we’ve been overly cautious, not that we have fallen short,” Superintendent Stephanie S. Elizalde said.

School mask tracker: Who is and isn’t loosening the rules

The COVID positivity rate in Austin ISD schools while masks were required last school year was lower schools than in the community at large, the district noted.

Houston ISD Superintendent Millard House II will also propose a mask mandate to his school board this week.

Mask mandates

Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska is the latest among a growing number of large districts to mandate masks. The district has also held several vaccination clinics in its buildings.

“As one of the first large, urban school districts to return in-person in 2020, the entire Omaha Public Schools community can be proud of our collective commitment to young people,” the district said on its website. “Our data has shown that students need to be in class, connected and learning with one another.”

In North Carolina, Henderson County Public Schools became the latest district in that southern state to mandate masks. The district also announced a cluster of five positive COVID cases at one of its elementary schools.

In Delaware, Gov. John Carney on Tuesday became the latest leader to announce a statewide school mask mandate.

“There’s no higher priority than getting all Delaware children back in their classrooms full-time this fall,” Carney said in a statement. “This consistent, statewide approach will help students, educators and staff return to school safely and without disruption.”