School & District Management

Florida Withholds School Board Salaries Over Mask Mandates

By Scott Travis, South Florida Sun-Sentinel — August 31, 2021 5 min read
Students sit in an Algebra class at Barbara Coleman Senior High School on the first day of school, in Miami Lakes, Fla., on Aug. 23, 2021. Florida school districts can legally require their students to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a judge ruled Friday, Aug, 27, saying Gov. Ron DeSantis overstepped his authority when he issued an executive order banning such mandates.
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Despite a court ruling saying school districts can require students to wear masks, the state is still withholding money to penalize Broward County schools.

A news release Monday from the Florida Department of Education doesn’t address the ruling from Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper, who found that the state’s ban on mask mandates was unconstitutional.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said the state will withhold money equivalent to the salaries of eight of the nine Broward School Board members who voted for a mask mandate. He also is withholding the salaries of four of five board members in Alachua County who passed a similar measure.

Corcoran said the districts can’t use money designed for students or teacher pay to offset the penalty.

“We’re going to fight to protect parents’ rights to make health care decisions for their children,” Corcoran said. “They know what is best for their children. What’s unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”

The release said the commissioner and state Board of Education “retain the right and duty to impose additional sanctions and take additional enforcement action to bring each school district into compliance with state law and rule.”

Some Broward School Board members expressed outrage.

“This feels illegal to me,” School Board member Sarah Leonardi said. “Perhaps Commissioner Corcoran should reread the Florida Constitution because I swore an oath to ‘provide a safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools’” outlined in the Constitution.

State officials announced Friday that they would appeal the Leon County court ruling. The judge had said he would issue his order this week, but that hasn’t happened yet, possibly providing a window for the state to take this action.

“Unlike several school districts in this state, our Department plans on continuing to follow the rule of law until such time as the Court issues its ruling, and subsequent to that ruling, we plan on immediately appealing this decision ... from which we will seek to stay the ruling,” Jared Ochs, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said in a statement Monday night.

School Mask Mandates at a Glance

This information is no longer being updated. The last data update was on May 23, 2022.

  • 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. Georgia

    On March 29, Gov. Kemp signed the “Unmask Georgia Students Act” which allows parents to exempt their child from a school mask requirement. The law went into effect immediately.

    3. Iowa

    On Sept. 13, 2021, a federal judge ordered Iowa to halt enforcement of its law banning mask mandates in schools. On Jan. 25, 2022, a federal appeals panel narrowed that injunction. Iowa’s attorney general announced the state is not enforcing the ban while awaiting further action from the court. On May 16, 2022 a U.S. Court of Appeals lifted the injunction.

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

    6. Virginia

    On Jan. 15, Gov. Youngkin issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their child out of any school mask mandate. It effectively rescinded the state's school mask requirement that had been in place since August. That executive order was later halted by a judge. On Feb. 14, the Virginia legislature passed a measure that bans school mask mandates. That bill was signed by the governor on Feb. 16 and went into effect on March 1.

    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. On April 25, Gov. Ducey signed HB2616, which prevents schools from requiring a student to wear a mask without first getting parental consent. The ban, which replaces the one blocked by the courts, will go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns.

    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. South Carolina

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

    4. Tennessee
    5. Texas

    On March 17, an appeals court upheld an injunction that blocked Gov. Abbott's executive order banning mask mandates in schools, finding it is unlawful and exceeding the governor's authority. This is not the first time the state's ban has been halted by a judge.

    MASK REQUIREMENT IN EFFECT


    1. Hawaii

    Although Hawaii's state-wide indoor mask mandate ended on March 25, indoor masking will still be required in public schools at least through the summer.

    PREVIOUSLY HAD MASK REQUIREMENT


    1. California

    On Feb. 28, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington issued a joint announcement that mask requirements would end in their states effective March 12.

    2. Connecticut

    On Feb. 7, Gov. Lamont announced that the school mask rule would expire Feb. 28. He signed a bill on Feb. 15 that made the expiration date official.

    3. Delaware

    On Feb. 7, Gov. Carney amended his emergency order to allow his state-level school mask requirement to expire March 31. On Feb. 28, he announced that masks would no longer be required effective at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1.

    4. District of Columbia

    On March 8, the department of health released updated guidelines that recommend universal masking only when community COVID-19 levels are high.

    5. Illinois

    On Feb. 5, a judge issued a temporary restraining order on the governor's statewide mask requirement. On Feb. 25, the state supreme court vacated that order. On the same day, the governor announced he would lift the requirement on Feb. 28.

    6. Kentucky

    Kentucky's school mask mandate ended in September, when the state legislature voted to limit the governor’s emergency powers.

    7. Louisiana

    According to a State of Emergency proclamation issued Nov. 23, which was extended on Jan. 19, students were required to wear masks in schools, but districts could opt out of the mandate if they adopted an isolation and quarantine policy consistent with the state's department of health protocols. On Feb. 16, Gov. Bel Edwards extended the order without requiring masking in schools.

    8. Maryland

    On Jan. 5, the mask mandate was extended for 180 days, but allowed school districts to opt out if certain vaccination rates were met. On Feb. 22, the state board of education voted to rescind the mandate. On Feb. 25, a state legislative committee gave final approval to lift the mandate effective March 1.

    9. Massachusetts

    On Sept. 27, the state began allowing schools to apply for a waiver from the face covering rules for vaccinated individuals if certain vaccination rates were met. On Feb. 9, officials announced the statewide mask requirement for K-12 schools would be lifted on February 28.

    10. Nevada

    On Feb. 10, Gov. Sisolak announced the immediate suspension of the school mask requirement. The previous mask requirement had only applied to counties with populations of 100,000 people or more.

    11. New Jersey

    On Feb. 7, Gov. Murphy announced plans to end his state’s school-mask requirement on March 7.

    12. New Mexico

    On Feb. 17, Gov. Grisham announced the end of the mask requirement, effective immediately.

    13. New York

    On Jan. 24, a judge struck down the state's mask mandate. A day later, an appeals judge restored the mandate. On Feb. 27, Gov. Hochul announced the mandate would be lifted on March 2.

    14. Oregon

    On Feb. 7, health officials said the state would drop its school mask requirement no later than March 31. On Feb. 24, the Oregon Health Authority announced the requirement would lift on March 19. However, on Feb. 28, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington issued a joint announcement that mask requirements would end in their states effective March 12.

    15. Pennsylvania

    A statewide mask mandate for Pennsylvania schoolchildren was thrown out by the state Supreme Court on December 10.

    16. Rhode Island

    On Feb. 9, Gov McKee announced the school mask mandate would only remain in effect until March 4. On Feb. 15, he signed an executive order specifying that the order would take effect at 5 p.m. on March 4.

    17. Virginia

    On Jan. 15, Gov. Youngkin issued an executive order allowing parents to opt their child out of any school mask mandate. It effectively rescinded the state's school mask requirement that had been in place since August. That executive order was later halted by a judge. On Feb. 14, the Virginia legislature passed a measure that bans school mask mandates. That bill was signed by the governor on Feb. 16 and went into effect on March 1.

    18. Washington

    On Feb. 17, Gov. Inslee announced the state's school mask requirement will end effective March 21. However, on Feb. 28, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington issued a joint announcement that mask requirements would end in their states effective March 12.

  • NOTES
    In January 2022, the Missouri attorney general, Eric Schmitt, sued some school districts that required masks, citing a November ruling by a county judge that said local health orders tied to COVID-19 were illegal. (The ruling was interpreted differently by different districts.) The state’s treasurer announced he would also crack down on schools with mask mandates. In mid-March, Schmitt began dropping lawsuits against school districts that no longer required masks. On May 19, 2022 Schmitt announced new lawsuits against several districts that had reinstated mask requirements.
    On Feb. 23, 2022, New Hampshire’s governor announced the state was no longer recommending universal indoor masking and therefore schools have to end mask mandates, arguing they violate state education department rules. Soon after, the department advised districts that the mandates “are inconsistent with” their rules. There’s disagreement over whether districts still have the authority to require masks, but at least one district changed its policy in response. A bill that would have banned mask mandates was vetoed by Gov. Sununu in May 2022.
    Updated 5/23/2022 | Sources: Local media reports, Education Week reporting | Learn more here

The issue relates to whether the school districts are complying with a July 30 executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis and an Aug. 7 state rule from the Department of Health saying that parents must be able to opt their children out of mask mandates. State officials are also citing the Parents Bill of Rights, a law passed by the Legislature this year that gives parents more say on matters related to their children’s health.

School districts say mask mandates are needed to protect public health, as COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed and children under 12 can’t get vaccinated. Their decisions are backed by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Mask opponents argue that children are at low risk of getting seriously sick or dying from COVID-19 and masks make for a miserable learning environment for students.

Broward and Alachua were the first two districts to defy state orders requiring a parent opt-out. Since then eight others have joined them, including Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, but the state hasn’t taken final action on them yet.

Miami-Dade and Palm Beach received letters giving them until Wednesday to comply with the state’s orders. Neither plans to do so.

“I think what we need to make clear is our School Board believes we are acting in our constitutional authority, as indicated by Judge Cooper,” said Frank Barbieri, chairman of the Palm Beach County School Board.

Broward school officials hold similar views. Interim Broward Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright .has said that the state Department of Health rules were written in such a way that do not require districts to allow any parent to opt out of the policy. The district is allowing children with certain medical conditions or special needs to opt out.

“We are looking to cooperate with the Department of Education and the State Board of Education,” Cartwright said Monday. “We’re not looking to make this a political matter. We believe we are in compliance with the law.”

The issue has become intensely political, with Democratic politicians, including President Joe Biden, feuding with DeSantis and the Republican-controlled State Board of Education. Biden has offered to allow school districts to use federal dollars to replace any funds cut from the state.

The state’s action also could lead to a federal civil rights investigation. Earlier Monday, Biden’s Education Department on Monday opened investigations into five Republican-led states — Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah — that have banned or limited mask requirements in schools, saying the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions.

See Also

Kindergarten students sit in their classroom on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles on April 13, 2021.
Kindergarten students sit in their classroom on the first day of in-person learning at Maurice Sendak Elementary School in Los Angeles in April 2021.
Jae C. Hong/AP

Florida was not on the list, federal officials said, because of the judge’s ruling preventing the state from enforcing the ban on mask mandates. That could change now that the state doubled down on its intent to enforce its rules.

“The department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

In announcing the investigations, the department said it will examine whether the policies violate a federal law protecting students with disabilities. Under that law, students with disabilities must be given access to a “free appropriate public education” alongside their peers without disabilities.

Broward School Board Chairwoman Rosalind Osgood said she’s “very disappointed” that Corcoran and the Department of Education are “not willing to work with school districts” while the legal issues are resolved.

“Any defunding of public education is not appropriate,” Osgood said. “Our staff and students are experiencing additional trauma caused by the pandemic. Many staff and students have lost family members, friends and coworkers. Districts are trying to provide quality face-to-face learning.”

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

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