FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - The mask mandate face-off between Florida school boards and the state continues.
The state’s Board of Education met on Thursday and determined that 11 school districts, including Miami-Dade and Broward, broke state law by issuing mask mandates in schools.
“This district has not come forward with documentation to establish compliance with the law which requires an opt-out of the district’s mask mandate,” said Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran during the meeting.
The board said that if the school districts don’t comply, they will lose even more state funding.
Broward County Public Schools face a steep penalty, equal to the amount of a federal grant it received.
“Today, Broward County is one of only two only school districts in the entire nation to have applied and been awarded a project state grant in the amount of $420,957,” said Corcoran. “I recommend you find the district is not in compliance with the new [Florida Department of Health] rule.”
The federal government immediately issued a warning to Florida that withholding that money may be illegal.
Broward, Miami-Dade and four other counties are now suing the state over its authority to issue COVID-19 safety restrictions.
“The petition challenges the emergency rule that was adopted by the Department of Health last week,” said Jamie Cole, the attorney representing the six school districts.
That rule gave parents the right to decide whether or not their child would wear a mask in school and whether their student will quarantine if they are symptomatic after being exposed to COVID-19.
“The six districts have adopted mask mandates, which have parental opt-outs for medical reasons, but the Department of Health rule requires an opt-out by parents for any reason,” said Cole.
The latest developments come after Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried went on Facebook Live with strong words for Gov. Ron DeSantis.
She said her office compiled all the data that he did not allow to go public and, Fried states, the governor is lying to Floridians about the COVID-19 case numbers.
Fried said the schools that are requiring masks have far lower numbers than the school districts that do not have a mask mandate in place.
“This new data proves that this punishment is purely political,” she said.
Interim Broward Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said they will keep their mask mandates for the time being.
“After listening to the guidance from medical experts and reviewing current local COVID-19 statistics, the school board voted to maintain its existing health and safety policies and protocols for now,” she said.
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho asked the board for a few weeks before ruling as COVID numbers drop. However, the board ruled that Miami-Dade and Broward are not in compliance.
“The law allows parents to make decisions about their own child, but does not afford the right to harm another,” Carvalho said. “My board, nor I, intend to do anything to place a child or employee in harm’s way. We can do better.”
The state did move on its motion, finding Miami-Dade and Broward counties not in compliance.
Carvalho released a statement that reads:
“Our School Board’s commitment to safeguarding the health and well-being of all students and employees has not wavered. We disagree with today’s State Board of Education’s recommendation and, as stated during this afternoon’s meeting, wholeheartedly believe that we are in compliance with law, reason, and science. There have been no major outbreaks in our schools, and student cases have been declining since peaking in early September, a trend we expect to continue due to our layered mitigation approach. Although the outcome of today’s meeting was expected, it is nonetheless disappointing. Once the official order is received, a formal response will be sent to the State.”
The U.S. Department of Education has sent a letter to the Florida Board of Education saying that the sanctions and threats to take away funding over the mask mandates are illegal.
Even as it remains in its current tug of war, the state of Florida has filed its plans to spend more than $2 billion in federal relief money for use during the COVID-19 pandemic in schools. Ironically, state officials said, they’re going to encourage schools to find ways to use masks. The money is intended for math and reading programs, as well as for students who would like to learn a trade.
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