Education commissioner threatens to withhold salaries for DCPS board members over mask mandate

The Florida Department of Education is launching an investigation into Duval County Public Schools. It's over the district's decision to impose a 90-day mask mandate for students.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Education is now taking aim at Duval County Public Schools over the district’s decision to impose a 90-day mask mandate for students.

All students and staff without a medical exemption from a doctor will be required to wear masks in schools starting next Tuesday.

Now, the department is launching an investigation into the DCPS because of that rule.

On Friday, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran sent a letter to DCPS superintendent Diana Greene and board chair Elizabeth Andersen saying that the district must come into compliance with the governor’s executive order banning mask mandates.

“I am immediately initiating an investigation of non-compliance with the rule adopted by the Florida Department of Health on August 6, 2021,” Corcoran wrote. “I intend to recommend to the State Board of Education that the Department withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for all the members of the School Board, as well as other sanctions authorized by law, until the district comes into compliance.”

DOCUMENT: Corcoran’s letter to DCPS superintendent, board chair

Last week, a judge ruled against the education department saying mask mandates do not necessarily violate the Parents Bill of Rights or Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order.

The ruling came as coronavirus cases are increasing in schools across the state, prompting student quarantines by the thousands in some districts. Ten districts -- including Duval and Alachua counties -- have defied the governor’s order, enacting mask mandates with exceptions only for medical reasons. Counties with such mask requirements now represent about half of Florida’s 2.8 million students.

The judge also blocked the state from punishing school districts that impose mask mandates without giving those districts a chance to defend themselves in court.

DCPS told News4Jax Tuesday there are no plans to change the mask mandate.

Alachua County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon told News4Jax on Tuesday local school boards know what’s best for their districts.

“Our school board members feel very strongly that the value and cost of human life is much too much for them to want to have to carry that burden of and so they’re fine with having to possibly face the consequences of their salaries being impacted,” Simon said. “And I think that it’s a very brave and courageous move, that they are very much focused on their principles, and not on cowering to threats from the government.”

Simon said she’s been in talks with other school districts and the federal government.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona tweeted Tuesday “We will continue to monitor this situation and stand with parents, students, and the hardworking educators & staff who are doing all they can to have a safe & healthy in-person school year.”