DeSantis Draws Battle Lines With School Boards Over Mask Mandates

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been dealing with renegade school districts in some of the state’s larger cities over the last week over the state’s order regarding masking children in public schools.

On July 30, DeSantis issued an executive order requiring all of the state’s school districts to allow parents to opt out of any student mask regulations. The policy gives all parents control over whether their children will wear masks and provides that doctors’ notes may not be required for that decision by local districts. The state Department of Health adopted a rule implementing the governor’s order on August 6.

Despite the statewide policy, Broward County’s School Board then voted 8-1 to carry forward with a mask mandate for the upcoming school year. On August 10, the state Department of Education wrote to county school officials to advise that payroll would be cut on August 13 if the county does not ensure compliance with state policy.

The letter follows a statement by DeSantis that the state Board of Education would narrowly tailor financial consequences for noncompliance. He said that the state could withhold salaries of district superintendents or school board members so that penalties would be directed against the persons responsible for violating the policy.

The governor stressed that education funding is intended to benefit students and not systems directly. The statement added that parents’ right to control their children’s education is his priority.

The governor’s plan to withhold administrative salaries will not affect teachers with no authority over local school policy or children who desperately need to return to regular in-school education.

Broward County Schools officials have said they are currently seeking outside legal counsel for direction and advice on dealing with the state’s opt-out order.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki commented on the conflict, saying that the Biden administration would try to pay any local Florida school officials who had their pay cut by the governor. She made no mention of where such payments would be authorized or funded.