Federal

Dept. of Ed., Florida Continue to Battle Over Ban on School Mask Mandates

By Ana Ceballos, Miami Herald — October 26, 2021 2 min read
Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran speaks alongside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, rear right, Fla. Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., left, state legislators, parents and educators, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.

The U.S. Department of Education jumped back on Florida’s mask mandate battle on Monday, this time warning the state that it will intervene if the Florida Department of Education sanctions districts to offset federal grant awards.

The latest threat comes a couple weeks after the State Board of Education authorized the FDOE to withhold funds from two districts, Broward and Alachua, that received federal grant awards from the Biden administration to backfill state sanctions over their masking rules.

The districts applied for the federal grants after the state withheld funds in an amount equal to the salaries of school board members who voted to require students to wears masks. The federal grants are part of a new program designed specifically to cover any financial sanctions that school districts face because of their mask rules.

Florida would be failing to comply with federal requirements if it follows through with its plan to withhold funds from the districts, wrote Ian Rosenblum, the deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

“If FLDOE moves forward with its planned reduction of state aid to Alachua and Broward, the department is prepared to initiate enforcement action to stop these impermissible state actions,” Rosenblum said.

It is unclear what kind of action the federal government could take against the state. The hope, Rosenblum wrote, is that Corcoran will reconsider his threatened actions against Broward and Alachua.

Corcoran has not signaled any intent of backing down, though.

“Yes, we received another harassing and legally hollow letter from U.S. DOE, and again we will continue forward, lawfully, as we have this entire time,” FDOE spokesman Jared Ochs said in response to Wednesday’s letter to Corcoran.

At a State Board of Education meeting earlier this month, Corcoran said the federal grants were encouraging districts to violate Florida law.

See Also

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Marta Lavandier/AP
Law & Courts Federal Judge Denies Parents' Suit to Block Florida's Ban on School Mask Mandates
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“Floridians should be offended by the Biden administration’s use of federal taxes in an attempt to make the enforcement of Florida’s laws so ineffective,” he said.

The Biden administration has sent $420,957 to Broward County Public Schools and $148,000 to Alachua County Public Schools to counteract fines levied by the state.

Alachua and Broward were the first to apply successfully for federal aid. The districts are among the eight districts — including Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties — that are facing state cutbacks as a result of their masking policies.

The Florida Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.

School Mask Mandates at a Glance

  • As of Dec. 1, nine states have banned school districts from setting universal mask mandates. Those bans are in effect in four states. In the remaining five states, mask mandate bans have been blocked, suspended, or are not being enforced. Seventeen 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. 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.

    4. 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.

    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

    In Arkansas, a judge paused the state law that prohibits local officials from setting mask mandates, meaning school districts can—at least for now—set their own local mask requirements.

    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.

    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

    On Nov. 14, a federal judge ordered the temporary suspension of a new Tennessee law that prevented schools from issuing mask mandates.

    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, 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
    9. Massachusetts

    On Oct. 26, Massachusetts extended the mask requirement through Jan. 15. 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
    12. New York
    13. New Mexico
    14. Oregon
    15. Pennsylvania
    16. Rhode Island
    17. Virginia
    18. Washington
  • Updated 12/02/2021 | Sources: Local media reports | Learn more here

Copyright (c) 2021, Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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