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Florida withholds funds from school districts with mask mandates

Florida withholds funds from school districts with mask mandates
The government of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday it was withholding the salaries of board members of two school districts that have gone forward with mask mandates in violation of a July executive order. File Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 31 (UPI) -- The Florida Department of Education has announced it is withholding funds to two school districts that have mandated masks in violation of a controversial executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

In a statement Monday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced that the department has withheld the salaries of the school board members for Alachua and Broward Counties, two districts that have been at the head of the fight against DeSantis' mask ban.

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"We're going to fight to protect parent's rights to make healthcare decisions for their children," Corcoran said. "Elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow."

The Republican governor issued an executive order amid spiking COVID-19 cases in the state to prohibit schools, and other government entities, from issuing mask mandates, arguing its up to parents to choose how best to protect their children. As school districts went against his order, he threatened to withhold the pay of those who continued to go against his rule.

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The school districts have argued the masks are necessary as many students are too young to be inoculated against the virus and the lack of a mandate not only puts students at risk, but staff and their families to whom they could bring the disease home to.

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The announcement of the withholding of salaries was made days after a circuit judge ruled against DeSantis, stating on Friday that following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance for school districts to require all who enter their facilities to wear masks is reasonable given the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Vickie Cartwright, interim superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, issued a statement on Monday in response to the department's actions, saying the health of students, teachers and staff will continue to be their main priority.

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"BCPS will continue to mandate masks, knowing the data shows they help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our schools," she said in a statement reported by CBS Miami. "As previously stated, this decision will be reviewed by the school board after Labor Day as conditions may change and modification may be appropriate."

Meanwhile, the federal Department of Education announced Monday that it has opened an investigation into five states that have imposed policies prohibiting schools from imposing mask mandates.

Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah have been informed of the probes, the department said.

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Investigations into Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona were not announced as their policies against mask mandates have been prevented from being enforced by the courts.

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