The Florida Board of Education on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve investigations into two school districts in the state that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) order banning mask mandates.
The board unanimously voted to probe schools in Alachua and Broward Counties for their mandatory student mask policy, a defiance of top Florida officials’ latest effort to prevent districts from imposing mandates.
Florida State Board of Education chair Tom Grady said he wants Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to “investigate further the conduct and acts of Alachua County, particularly the superintendents and school board members, and take all legal steps to enforce” state rules. No officials sanctions have been issued, but Grady indicated that the withholding of state funds to the district is possible.
Grady said Broward County will receive similar treatment with an investigation into conduct of school leaders in the district.
The vote took place during an emergency meeting on Tuesday. It follows Corcoran’s formal recommendation to the State Board of Education to “use its enforcement powers” against Broward County Public Schools and Alachua County Public Schools over officials’ decision to buck the statewide ban on mask mandates. Both districts require parents to provide a doctor’s note before their kids can opt-out of mask mandates.
In a memo to State Board of Education members, Corcoran said he has found probable cause that the Broward and Alachua school boards and their superintendents “acted contrary to the law” and a state rule that says districts must give parents discretion in deciding whether their children should wear masks, according to the Miami Herald.
The Herald noted that Corcoran, however, did not suggest penalties for the districts defying the ban on mask mandates.
Last week, Corcoran issued letters to Alachua and Broward school officials warning that he could recommend that the State Board of Education withhold state funding in an “amount equal” to the pay of the district’s superintendents and all school board members. Corcoran added that “the maximum accountability measure provided for under the law will be imposed.”
Last week, DeSantis’ office threatened to withhold the pay of school board members and superintendents who don’t comply with his ban on mask mandates. His office later softened that stance, suggesting that officials implementing the mask mandates should opt to dock their own salaries.
The Biden administration has been vocally critical of DeSantis’ anti-public health policies broadly and his efforts to prevent local mask mandates in schools specifically.
In a letter to DeSantis and Corcoran on Friday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said he was “deeply concerned” by the Florida governor’s ban on school mask mandates, and that federal relief funds could be used to replenish dollars that school districts would lose for passing local coronavirus safety measures.
“We are eager to partner with [Florida Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators,” Cardona wrote. “If FLDOE does not wish to pursue such an approach, the Department will continue to work directly with the school districts and educators that serve Florida’s students.”
On Friday night, President Biden called Broward County Schools interim superintendent Vickie Cartwright and Arizona Union High School District Superintendent Chad Geston to voice his support for the districts’ defiance in issuing mask mandates despite statewide bans on masking requirements, according to the Miami Herald.