Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration said the Board of Education will tailor financial penalties to hold accountable the few officials who made a decision to break the law by approving school mask mandates, and the state will withhold funding in the exact amount of those officials’ salaries.
In letters written by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran obtained by the Epoch Times, the commissioner had warned the superintendents and board chairs that he planned to withhold funds in the amount equal to their salaries.
“With respect to enforcing any financial consequences for noncompliance of state law regarding these rules and ultimately the rights of parents to make decisions about their children’s education and health care decisions, it would be the goal of the State Board of Education to narrowly tailor any financial consequences to the offense committed,” the governor’s office said in a statement at the time.
“The entire school district community shouldn’t suffer just because a few activist, anti-science school board members want to impose overreaching mandates on every student,”DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw told Politico in a statement.
The school board members in question “are not on the state payroll, so this form of penalty is the most narrowly tailored approach that the state can take,” she added. “Those officials should own their decision—and that means owning the consequences of their decisions rather than demanding students, teachers, and school staff to foot the bill for their potential grandstanding.”
Federal health officials and DeSantis have been at odds over COVID-19 mandates, including masking and vaccine passports, for months. Late in July, he issued an executive order blocking schools from following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recent recommendation that all students regardless of vaccination status wear masks while in class.
At the time, the governor said the order was designed to provide parents with the right to decide whether they want their kids to be masked for hours on end in class. In response, several districts, including Broward County, said that they would enforce mask requirements for students regardless of the consequences.
The White House previously said that it was considering reimbursing school board members if DeSantis followed through on his threat of withholding state funding.
Responding to the governor’s initial warning on Monday, Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district set out its plan after consulting with health experts.
“At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck; a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees,” Carvalho said on Monday afternoon.
An emergency state Board of Education meeting will be held on August 17 where Corcoran will report his findings related to Alachua and Broward counties. Sanctions are expected to follow if districts are found to be in violation of the mask mandate ban.
Jack Phillips contributed to this report.
Correction: The previous version of this article incorrectly said Gov. DeSantis had reversed his policy. The Epoch Times regrets the error.