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Board of Education votes to sanction Duval, 7 other Florida school districts over mask mandates

The counties have 48 hours to demonstrate they will come into compliance with the state orders before the penalties are imposed.
The counties have 48 hours to demonstrate they will come into compliance with the state orders before the penalties are imposed.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County, Alachua County and a handful of other Florida school districts will lose state funds after requiring students to wear masks in violation of a Department of Health rule prohibiting such mandates.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to approve Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s request to withhold state funding equal to School Board members’ salaries plus whatever amount the federal government contributes to make up for it.

The board also voted Thursday to withhold funding for Brevard, Broward, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach counties for violating the DOH’s rule.

The counties have 48 hours to demonstrate they will come into compliance with the state orders before the penalties are imposed.

“Follow of this unlawful rule would have an adverse effect on the health of students and staff in our district,” Duval County School Superintendent Diana Greene said. “We are protecting our students and providing a high-quality education and a safe learning environment.”

READ: FDOH’s ‘probable cause’ memoranda

Four other districts have had backed down on their mask mandates. Lee and Volusia backed down before the first fines were levied. Hillsborough and Sarasota counties rescinded their mask requirements earlier this week.

The state planned to fine the counties the equivalent of the salaries of their school board members’ salaries. After the Biden Administration announced it would replace any funds the state withheld, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran asked the board to withhold “state funds in an amount equal to any federal grant funds awarded to districts that defy the state’s ban on school mask requirements.”

The sanctions voted on Thursday will cost Duval just over $27,000 -- equal to one month’s worth of school board members’ salaries.

School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Andersen and Superintendent Diana Greene issued a joint statement on the board’s vote.

So far, only Alachua and Broward counties have received federal replacement funds for money withheld by the state. The penalties that were imposed Thursday include an additional $147,000 in Alachua and $420,000 in Broward, which is the amount of their federal grant awards.

The Board of Education vote was all procedural, with the real battle going to be in a courtroom.

Duval County on Thursday joined Alachua, Broward, Leon, Miami-Dade and Leon counties on in filing a challenge of the state’s emergency rule on masks with the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings. The districts claim that the Flordia Department of Health only has the power to set health policy and its rule banning mask mandates doesn’t mention health policy, only addresses protecting parental rights.

After Thursday’s DOE vote, the U.S. Department of Education sent a memo to the state saying offsetting federal grant money is not allow3ed under federal law.

Educators and Democrats in Florida were quick to criticize sanctioning school districts over mask requirements.

“It’s a shame that politics has put Gov. DeSantis’ Board of Education at odds with local schools trying to protect our kids,” said state Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville. “Local officials studied the science and chose to follow the recommendations of medical experts, and for that, the state is threatening to withhold funding. This strong-arm tactic forces the districts to make a terrible choice: harm students by not protecting them, or harm students by having state funding withheld. It’s shameful, embarrassing, and wrong. Not to mention petty. It’s petty partisan antics that are jeopardizing our kids’ lives and their future.”

Alachua School Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon argued earlier this week that the state’s energy could be better spent.

“We have significant needs in our school system that have been in the present situation with COVID as well as decades prior to. I would appreciate a focus on educating our children and less on punishing school districts,” Simon said.


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