Education Sec Reiterates Biden Admin’s Support For Schools Defying Mask Bans

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona answers questions during the daily briefing at the White House August 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. Cardona answered a range of questions related to ... WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona answers questions during the daily briefing at the White House August 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. Cardona answered a range of questions related to schoolchildren returning to schools in the fall. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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August 22, 2021 1:47 p.m.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Sunday reiterated the Biden administration’s support for schools that are implementing mask mandates despite bans against the measure by Republican governors.

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press,” Cardona was asked about his message to school districts that they can use COVID-19 relief funds to subsidize any funds withheld by state governors over masking battles. Cardona has sent letters to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signaling the Biden administration’s concerns over the Republican governors’ mask mandate ban amid surges in COVID-19 cases nationwide.

Cardona stressed that schools “do not have to get the green light from (their) governor” to use federal funds to make up for financial losses as a result of defying Republican governors’ mask mandate bans.

Cardona reiterated that the Biden administration is ready to launch probes into states with mask mandates through his department’s civil rights office.

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“It’s sad that we’re talking about this now. We’re going to use our Office for Civil Rights to investigate any claims that come forward to make sure that students rights are kept,” Cardona said. “And we’re also going to ensure that the funds are available to those districts that are doing the right thing to make sure students come in safely.”

Cardona added that withholding funds to force local entities to comply with governors’ orders “doesn’t usually work.”

“If anything, it adds insult to injury to these students who are trying to get into the classroom and to these parents who have told me repeatedly, ‘I just want my children back in school, that’s where they learn best,'” Cardona said.

Last week, President Biden announced that he directed Cardona to order his department’s civil rights office to investigate states such as Florida and Texas that are banning school mask mandates.

After appearing to initially back off of threats to withhold funds from school districts enforcing mask policies, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on Friday issued an ultimatum toward Florida’s Broward County and Alachua County school officials by warning that they had two days to get rid of their district’s mask mandates or school board members would start losing their monthly pay.

Both Florida school districts appear unfazed by Corcoran’s threat, however.

Dr. Rosalind Osgood, chair of the Broward County School Board, told a local ABC affiliate on Sunday that the district will not reverse course and will take legal action against the state.

“We also believe that we are acting in the best interest of the staff and students,” Osgood said.

In a statement, Dr. Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said the district has “no plans” to change its mandatory mask mandate following Corcoran’s ultimatum.

Corcoran’s latest funding threat was aimed at the two Florida school districts that are also under investigation for defying DeSantis’ order. Last week, the Florida Board of Education voted unanimously to have Corcoran probe Alachua and Broward Counties for bucking the governor’s executive action that was meant to ban school systems from passing mask requirements for in-person learning this fall.

Both DeSantis’ and Abbott’s bans on school mask mandates appear to be backfiring thus far. Five of Florida’s largest school districts refuse to comply with DeSantis’ ban, which makes up more than a third of the entire state’s student population. Meanwhile, the Texas Supreme Court on Thursday dealt another blow to Abbott’s ban amid a slew of lawsuits and restraining orders by temporarily giving local officials the green light to maintain their mandates.

Watch Cardona’s remarks below:

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