U.S. Department of Education offers help to Florida schools

Districts going up against state over mask mandates getting help from feds

As some Florida districts are defying an executive order by requiring students to wear masks, that move is getting some support from the highest level.

The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to the state of Florida outlining how it is willing to help schools directly.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said that he was, “deeply concerned,” about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order to ban mask mandates in schools.

The letter sent from the U.S. Department of Education was addressed to DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

A part of that letter reads: “In fact, it appears that Florida has prioritized threatening to withhold state funds from school districts that are working to reopen schools safely rather than protecting students and educators and getting school districts the federal pandemic recovery funds to which they are entitled.”

The letter also says President Joe Biden is willing to work with school districts directly if Florida’s Department of Education does not distribute federal aid.

The state has not submitted its plan of how it plans to spend roughly $7 billion from the American Rescue Plan. That was due on June 7.

Cardona also sent a different letter to Florida superintendents supporting their interest in requiring masks.

Corcoran responded to those letters. Part of his response threatened to withhold funding for schools up to an amount equal to superintendent and school board members’ salaries if they moved forward with requiring doctors’ notes for a student to get out of wearing a mask.

State education officials argue that schools mandating masks violates a Florida Department of Health rule that helped carry out the governor’s executive order against mandatory masks.

There is an emergency state board of education meeting set for Tuesday, Aug. 17, to review these letters.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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