FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - The Broward County Public School Board has been given an ultimatum over its decision to defy Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order to not mandate masks.
The Florida Department of Education on Friday decided to soon withhold funds equal to the salaries for some board members. Within the next 48 hours, the board members will have to submit their current annual salaries.
“We did receive the letter today from the Department of Education, which we have 48 hours, until Tuesday, to respond to,” BCPS Board Chair Dr. Rosalind Osgood said. “The letter indicates that they withhold our salaries monthly for the eight school board members that voted ‘No,’ around $31,000 a month. It also said that they would continue to investigate.”
Alachua County board members will also deal with the same consequence for its decision to mandate masks in its schools.
The state will then withhold an amount equal to 1/12 of the total annual salaries of each board member that voted in favor of the mask mandate.
“We don’t believe that we should be punished for trying to save the lives of the people that we live with,” Osgood said. “There’s no amount of money that someone could take from me that would force me to make a decision to put somebody’s life on the line.”
Department officials said the withholding of the funds will continue until each district complies with the governor’s order, which allows parents to opt their child out of wearing a mask.
Broward’s legal counsel will challenge the order and also has 48 hours to respond to the state’s letter.
“At the end of the day, for me, it comes down to this: if I don’t make masks mandatory, I could put somebody in a position to lose their life,” Osgood said.
Friday’s order also “prohibits each school district from reducing any other expenditures other than those related to compensation for school board members, and clearly states each district may not permit the reduction of funds that impact student services or teacher pay.”
Along with Alachua and Broward counties, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties have also followed suit with mask mandates.
“We are determined and unflinching in our conviction that doing right sometimes comes with threatening conditions,” Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. “We remain steadfast in support of the protocols that we adopted. These are protective tools that help our children.”
This year in Miami-Dade, the county is establishing a health screening area in all schools for potential exposure. All students, faculty and staff will also be required to quarantine for 10 days regardless of COVID-19 test results.
“We will do the right thing, and the right thing includes, in my opinion, a mandatory mask policy,” Carvalho said. “This is not a political statement. This is a protective tool. Nothing more, nothing less.”
The Biden administration has sent a letter to the governor and the state department of education that said the White House stands with the educators’ decision to enforce masks.
Biden tweeted out Friday night, “Let me be clear: We will do everything we can to support local school districts in safely reopening schools. American Rescue Plan funds can be used to backfill the salaries of the brave Florida school board members, superintendents, and other educators keeping our children safe.”
They went on to say the federal government will pay the board’s salary the state plans on withholding.
“We believe that we are in compliance,” Osgood said. “It’s not about defying the governor or not following the law. It’s about saving lives.”
The Broward Teachers Union said the governor has overstepped and overreached by trying to blackmail the school board members, something Osgood echoed.
“We also believe the governor is overreaching his line of authority,” Osgood said. “The Constitution of the State of Florida says that local school boards should set policies for school.”
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