School & District Management

Florida Governor Threatens to Withhold Salaries of School Leaders Who Impose Mask Mandates

By Leslie Postal, South Florida Sun Sentinel — August 10, 2021 3 min read
Surrounded by lawmakers, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the end of a legislative session on April 30, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.
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As students ready to return to campuses and COVID-19 cases continue to spike, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office on Monday said it would go after the salaries of school leaders if they enforce face mask mandates.

His spokesperson Christiana Pushaw said in a statement the state would “narrowly tailor any financial consequences” to target school leaders that defy the governor’s rules — withholding superintendents’ or school board members’ pay, for example — but protect students and teachers who were not the “decision makers.”

She also called “permissible” the approach taken by superintendents in districts where face masks are required but parents can opt their children out of wearing face coverings.

In Leon County, however, the district will require a doctor’s or a psychologist’s note to opt out of mask wearing. Policies like Leon’s would “violate the spirit” of DeSantis’ July 30 face mask order, Pushaw told The News Service of Florida.

Monday’s statement comes days after the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote DeSantis to say he needs to abandon his “dangerous” rhetoric against face masks in schools and make it clear that “universal masking” on campus reduces COVID-19 illness and protects “face-to-face learning.”

The group, which represents 830 Florida pediatricians, urged DeSantis to revise his public rhetoric about face masks and to stop “ignoring the virus” as public schools in Central Florida and across the state ready to open Tuesday.

The delta variant of the coronavirus, responsible for the surge in COVID-19 cases locally and across Florida, is more of a threat to children, the pediatricians said in their Aug. 6 letter.

“The current state led rhetoric regarding masking is dangerous. The data shows that masks are safe. ... There is no report of children getting sick from mask wearing, rather there are thousands of reports of children sick from COVID-19,” the letter said.

“We have officially fallen behind every single state in our response to this virus,” it added. “This is shameful at best, and deadly at worst.”

School Mask Mandates at a Glance

  • As of Dec. 10, four states have bans in effect that prevent school districts from setting universal mask mandates, according to an Education Week analysis. Five additional states have such bans, but they have been blocked, suspended, or are not being enforced. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia require masks be worn in schools.

  • MASK MANDATE BAN IN EFFECT


    1. Florida

    On Sept. 22, Florida's surgeon general instituted a rule that gives parents and legal guardians "sole discretion" over masking in schools. On Nov. 5, a judge sided with the state health department in a legal challenge to rule. On Nov. 18 Gov. DeSantis signed a bill that allows parents to sue school districts that require masks.

    2. Oklahoma

    On Sept. 1, an Oklahoma judge temporarily blocked the state law banning school mask mandates, but students or their parents can still opt out of school mask mandates if they choose.

    3. Texas

    On Dec. 1, an appeals court halted a federal judge’s order that had stopped Texas from enforcing its ban on mask mandates in schools, allowing the prohibition to remain in effect.

    4. Utah

    In Utah, local health departments can issue 30-day school mask mandates with approval from the state or county government, according to the state’s top education official.

    MASK MANDATE BAN BLOCKED, SUSPENDED, OR NOT BEING ENFORCED


    1. Arizona

    On Sept. 27, a judge in Arizona blocked the state laws banning mask mandates that were set to take effect on Sept. 29. On Nov. 2, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

    2. Arkansas

    An Arkansas judge ruled on Dec. 29, that a law signed by the governor in April that prohibited local officials, including school boards, from setting mask mandates was unconstitutional. School districts have been able to set their own mask requirements since August when the judge put the law on hold.

    3. Iowa

    On Sept. 13, a federal judge ordered Iowa to halt enforcement of its law banning mask mandates in schools. The order was later extended. The case is now awaiting a ruling from a federal appeals court.

    4. South Carolina

    On Sept. 28, a federal judge suspended South Carolina from enforcing the rule that banned school districts from requiring masks for students.

    5. Tennessee

    MASKS REQUIRED


    1. California
    2. Connecticut
    3. Delaware
    4. District of Columbia
    5. Hawaii
    6. Illinois
    7. Louisiana

    According to a State of Emergency proclamation issued Nov. 23, and most recently extended on Jan. 19, students are required to wear masks in schools, but districts can opt out of the mandate if they adopt an isolation and quarantine policy consistent with the state's department of health protocols.

    8. Maryland

    On Jan. 5, the mask mandate was extended for 180 days, but newly allowed school districts to opt out if at least 80% of the county or 80% of their students and staff have been fully vaccinated.

    9. Massachusetts

    On Jan. 10, Massachusetts extended the state's mask requirement through Feb. 28. On Sept. 27, Massachusetts said schools can apply for a waiver from the face covering rules if 80% of their students and staff have been vaccinated. If a school reaches the 80% threshold, unvaccinated students and employees are still required to wear masks.

    10. Nevada
    11. New Jersey

    On Dec. 7, a judge ruled New Jersey's school mask mandate is "rational" and does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

    12. New Mexico
    13. New York
    14. Oregon
    15. Rhode Island
    16. Virginia

    An executive order from Virginia's new governor that is set to take effect on Jan. 24 rescinds the state's current school mask mandate and instead allows parents to opt their child out of any mask mandate at their school.

    17. Washington
  • Note: In Missouri, the state attorney general has threatened to sue school districts that require masks, citing a November ruling by a county judge that said local health orders tied to COVID-19 are illegal. (The ruling is being interpreted differently by different districts.) The state’s treasurer announced he was also cracking down on schools with mask mandates.
    Updated 01/20/2022| Sources: Local media reports | Learn more here

Districts Defying Mask Mandate Bans in Texas

Meanwhile, in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has also banned mask mandates, a second large school district on Monday announced plans to defy the ban. Both the Austin and Dallas Independent School Districts have announced they will require students to wear masks in school.

DeSantis signed his executive order July 30 that said parents could ignore school mask mandates and threatened school districts with a loss of state funding if they adopted them. Last week, the Florida Department of Health followed his order and adopted a new rule that said students could wear face masks as a “mitigation measure” but parents must have an opt-out provision from any face mask mandate.

Monday, Pushaw said the state would seek to “narrowly tailor any financial consequences to the offense committed” rather than take broader action against a school district.

Pushaw also said that the governor’s views on face mask mandates are based on studies that showed such policies made little difference to COVID-19 cases on campuses last year.

See Also

080321 Broward School Board Mask Protest TNS BS
A group of mask opponents speak outside during a Broward County School Board meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last week.
Carline Jean/AP

Though many experts say face masks helped reduce virus spread in schools, Pushaw noted some studies have concluded they made little difference. “Any assertion that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ in support of school mask mandates is simply inaccurate and misleading,” she wrote.

“If some parents want their children to wear masks, that is their free choice and their right, even if it’s not the same decision Governor DeSantis would make,” she added. “If some parents feel their children are struggling with masks, which many do (especially kids with special needs and English Language Learners) then those parents have the right to send their kids to school without masks.”

The pediatric group is also wrong to claim the governor is ignoring the virus, Pushaw said, adding that is a view based on “biased reporting and critiques from his political opponents.”

Copyright (c) 2021, South Florida Sun Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

Steven Lemongello of the Sentinel staff contributed to this story.

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