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Florida education board OKs sanctioning school districts over mask mandates

Florida education board OKs sanctioning school districts over mask mandates
The Florida school board on Thursday approved sanctioning eight school districts over instituting mask mandates in violation of state rules. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 8 (UPI) -- The Florida Board of Education has approved a resolution to sanction eight school districts that have mandated masks in violation of Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order.

The board during an emergency meeting Thursday unanimously supported sanctioning the school districts if they did not drop their mask orders within 48 hours.

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Mask mandates have been a heated issue in the Sunshine State following DeSantis issuing a controversial executive order amid spiking COVID-19 cases in July to bar school districts from mandating mask mandates against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

While mask proponents have argued masks are necessary in schools as many students are still too young to be inoculated against the virus, the Republican governor and his supporters argue that the mandates strip parents of their right to choose the best healthcare for their children.

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Twelve school districts issued mask mandates in violation of the executive order that attracted threats from the governor to punish them, with the board announcing in late August that the salaries of school board members in Alachua and Broward Counties would be withheld.

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Three school boards have since rescinded their mask mandates, with the board on Thursday agreeing to withhold state funds from Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach counties.

According to the approved resolutions, the board will withhold from the districts funds "in an amount equal to 1/12 of all school board members' salaries."

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Due to the threat of sanctions, the Biden administration created the Project Safe grant program for school districts that are financially punished by state boards of education for implementing COVID-19 measures endorsed by the CDC.

However, the Florida resolutions call for funds to be withheld from school districts equal to any federal grants they receive for their noncompliance with DeSantis' order.

"If the federal government can simply backfill or buy our school districts with grants, then this board's enforcement authority is in essence neutralized, nullified and abolished," Florida Board of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said during the meeting on Thursday, WLRN reported. "Floridians should be offended by the Biden administration's use of federal taxes in an attempt to make the enforcement of Florida's laws so ineffective."

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During the meeting, the school boards' superintendents were allowed to argue their positions with Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho asking for the sanctions to be delayed until the end of the month in hopes that cases would go down.

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"Since August, we have lost 14 staff members and one student, and many more have been hospitalized," he said. "We know masks reduce viral spread. Those who say otherwise are misinformed or misguided."

Via Twitter following the meeting, he said they will respond once a formal order concerning the sanctions has been received.

"We disagree with today's State Board of Education's recommendation and wholeheartedly believe that we are in compliance with law, reason and science," he said.

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