Try as he might, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) efforts to force schools that defied his ban on mask mandates to reverse course is doing very little, besides backfiring.
Alachua County Public Schools on Sunday officially responded to DeSantis’ order in a letter by refusing to reverse course on its mandatory masking rule. This comes even after Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s ultimatum last week that gave school leaders in Alachua and Broward Counties two days to get rid of their district’s mask mandates or school board members would start losing their monthly pay.
In a letter addressed to Florida State Board of Education chair Tom Grady and vice chair Ben Gibson, Alachua County Public Schools superintendent Carlee Simon made clear that the district “will not permit the reduction of funds from student services or teacher pay.”
“The Alachua County Public School District maintains our prior positions shared in both our response letter to Commissioner Corcoran on August 10, 2021 and in our response to the State Board of Education Emergency meeting on August 17, 2021,” Simon wrote, arguing the district was in compliance with DeSantis’ emergency orders.
Simon cited the 273 current positive student cases and 63 positive adult cases in Alachua County schools when arguing that masks are “a protective device to reduce transmission of the virus.”
“Due to the highly contagious nature of this virus, there is a high risk that more students and staff will have to be sent home due to illness or exposure,” Simon wrote. “Like you, we are obligated to provide a safe and secure public education to all students.”
Simon’s letter reiterates her statement in response to Corcoran’s funding threat last week that the district has “no plans” to change its universal masking rule.
Broward County Public Schools shows no signs of caving in to Corcoran’s threat either.
On Tuesday, the Broward County school board pushed back on DeSantis’ order in a 20-page response that argued that his ban on school mask mandates is “contrary to exclusive powers” granted to the school board, includes “erroneous” findings, and threatens to impose sanctions “beyond the constitutional and statutory authority” of the State Board of Education.
“The School Board requests that the State Board rescind the Order,” the Broward County school board wrote.
Dr. Rosalind Osgood, chair of the Broward County School Board, has repeatedly indicated in recent days that the district won’t back down despite Corcoran’s ultimatum.
In remarks during a media briefing on Tuesday, Osgood reiterated her previous obstinence — that the district will not reverse course and will take legal action against the state if necessary. Osgood said Tuesday that Broward County Public Schools’ mandatory mask mandate is “in compliance” with DeSantis’ order and that the district is weighing potential legal challenges to the Florida governor.
“We don’t believe we have done anything inappropriate as it relates to the executive order and the rule of the department of education. So we have also instructed our lawyers, our legal counsel and superintendent to seek legal avenues that we can challenge those things that we believe are unlawful and out of line.”
Despite DeSantis’ carrot and stick approach to force local school officials to comply with his order, a growing amount of school districts in Florida have continued implementing mask mandates.
On Sunday, Leon County school district joined several others to buck DeSantis’ ban by nixing the option for parents to opt their children out of the mask mandate, with the exception of medical accommodations.
Read Simon’s letter below: