The Florida Department of Education withheld more than $600,000 this month from two counties that are openly defying the state’s restriction on blanket mask mandates.
The move is in open defiance of the Biden administration, which had warned in a letter on Monday that the federal government “is prepared to initiate enforcement action to stop these impermissible state actions.”
The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) withheld $164,000 from Alachua County and $455,000 from Broward County. The two amounts consist of a portion of the salaries of the school board members for each county as well as the full amount of federal grants that the counties applied for. The federal grants were meant to replenish the money the county schools were being docked for defying the state’s restriction on school mask mandates.
The penalties are the latest in the political saga between the White House and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis over the best health policies for responding to the CCP virus pandemic. The U.S. Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment.
A rule approved by the FDOE requires all schools in the Sunshine State to allow parents to opt-out of mask mandates. Alachua and Broward defied the restriction by obligating parents to hand in a doctor’s note to apply for an exemption.
Carlee Simon, the superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said in a statement that the state stripped her district of federal funds, which it had not yet received.
“I am appalled that the state would penalize the district by pulling funding we have not even received,” Simon said.
Broward County Public Schools did not respond to a request for comment.
The Florida State Board of Education earlier this month approved plans to withhold a month’s salary from school board members in districts with classroom mask mandates and reduce overall funding if those counties receive a federal grant intended to offset the state’s fines.
Florida’s ban on classroom mask mandates without parental opt-out options quickly sparked legal challenges. A Leon County judge ruled over the summer that DeSantis did not have authority to ban local school mask mandates under Florida’s Parents Bill of Rights law. The governor appealed, and the 1st District Court of Appeal issued a stay allowing the ban on mandates to remain while the merits of the case are considered.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.