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Florida penalizes Alachua, Broward school districts in mask standoffs

The announcement Monday came after Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper on Friday ruled that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ overstepped his constitutional authority in prohibiting mask mandates.
Pinellas School Superintendent Michael Grego and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, listen as Governor Ron DeSantis addresses the press and school staff during a visit to Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg in August.
Pinellas School Superintendent Michael Grego and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, listen as Governor Ron DeSantis addresses the press and school staff during a visit to Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg in August. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Aug. 31

TALLAHASSEE — Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced Monday that the state Department of Education has withheld funds from the Alachua and Broward county school districts in amounts equal to school board members’ monthly salaries.

The move was a penalty for the school boards requiring students to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, with exceptions only for students whose parents submit doctors’ notes. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order July 30 that sought to prohibit local school districts from enacting student mask mandates.

The governor’s order triggered a Department of Health rule that said parents must be able to opt out of such mandates. On Aug. 20, the Department of Education issued orders threatening to withhold funding equal to the salaries of four Alachua board members and eight Broward board members who voted for the mandates.

Corcoran’s announcement Monday came after Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper on Friday ruled that DeSantis’ overstepped his constitutional authority in issuing the executive order.

Cooper issued an injunction barring Corcoran, the Department of Education and the State Board of Education from enforcing DeSantis’ order. It was not clear Monday evening whether the announcement about withholding funds from the Alachua and Broward districts conflicts with Cooper’s ruling.

The department did not immediately answer an email from The News Service of Florida about the issue. DeSantis has vowed to appeal Cooper’s ruling, but a notice of appeal had not been posted on the Leon County clerk of courts website Monday evening.

“The withholding of funds will continue monthly until each school board complies with state law and rule,” a news release from the Department of Education said Monday.