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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatens pay of school officials who mandate masks

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatens pay of school officials who mandate masks
The office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is warning school officials that they may face "targeted sanctions" if they mandate masks. File photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 10 (UPI) -- As Florida education leaders continue to announce mask mandates for all students, the office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned that their pay may be cut or withheld if they implement the measures.

The state's Republican governor has taken a hard stance against mandates concerning the coronavirus pandemic, and late last month he issued a controversial executive order prohibiting schools from mandating students to wear masks on the grounds that it violates the rights of parents to decide how to protect their children.

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Christian Pushaw, DeSantis' spokeswoman, released a statement Monday saying that district superintendents and county school board members who go against the executive order may face financial consequences, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

"It would be the goal of the State Board of Education to narrowly tailer any financial consequences to the offense committed," she said. "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 the law."

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Pushaw further explained that schools wouldn't be defunded, only the salaries of superintendents and school board members who "intentionally defy the EO" would be affected.

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"Think of it like targeted sanctions," she said via Twitter.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during her daily press briefing Tuesday that funds from the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan intended to help schools safely reopen amid the pandemic could "certainly" be used to pay salaries of school officials stripped of their pay by DeSantis.

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Psaki also noted that Florida has not distributed any of the American Rescue Plan funds allocated to the state.

"The question is -- 'why not?'" Psaki said. "Those [funds] can be used to cover expenses that come up in this period of time. They're federal funds. They're under federal discretion, so they need to be distributed to these schools. We're looking into what's possible."

She applauded "the boldness of a number of leaders in Florida" who have moved to require masks and echoed a call by President Joe Biden last week for state officials to "get out of the way" of local officials and businesses seeking to implement safety precautions to combat the pandemic.

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"Let public officials, let local officials do their job to keep students safe," she said. "This is serious and we're talking about people's lives and we know based on public health guidelines that even though kids under a certain age are not yet eligible [for the vaccine], masks can have a huge impact."

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Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association, rejected DeSantis' move.

"I don't always agree with school boards or superintendents, but for Gov. Ron DeSantis to threaten to withhold play if they don't follow his politics, rather than put kids first, is just plan wrong," he said on Twitter.

The statement from DeSantis' office was issued as more counties in the state direct their students to wear mask.

Rocky Hanna, the superintendent for Leon County where schools are to reopen Wednesday, announced a temporary mask mandate for K-Grade 8 during a press conference on Monday.

"Heaven forbid we lost a child to this virus, I can't just simply blame the governor of the state of Florida. I can't. And if there's an out and I didn't take the out and I didn't do what was best for the children in Tallahassee and Leon County, that's on me. Every time I'd look in the mirror it'd be really hard," he said.

Concerning the threat of having his pay cut, he said "you can't put a price tag on someone's life, including my salary."

Several other counties have already announced mask mandates for their Florida public schools.

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Florida State University on Monday also announced that it expects all campus community members to wear masks inside FSU facilities and to be vaccinated.

DeSantis issued the executive order on July 30 questioning the science behind such mask mandates.

Recently revised guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention run counter to order, stating it recommends universal indoor masking of all students, staff, teachers and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

At least two lawsuit have been filed against DeSantis' executive order, CNN reported.

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