By Kevin Deutsch
State education officials on Monday made good on their threat to withhold the salaries of Broward County School Board members who voted for a student mask mandate, days after a Florida judge ruled such mandates legal and permitted under state law.
The Florida Department of Education also withheld the monthly salaries of school board members in Alachua County, one of a growing number of Florida school districts that have mandated mask wearing for students.
In a news release issued Monday, state Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran announced the withholding of school board member funds and said they would “continue monthly until each school board complies with state law and rule.”
Corcoran’s announcement made no mention of Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper’s ruling Friday that found school districts can legally mandate mask-wearing for students as a way to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Cooper’s ruling dealt an apparent blow to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning student mask mandates, as well as a Florida Department of Health rule requiring that a parent or legal guardian be allowed to opt their child out of school mask mandates, for any reason.
The judge’s ruling does not legally take effect until a written order is issued.
The state has vowed to appeal.
“We’re going to fight to protect parent’s rights to make health care decisions for their children,” Corcoran said in the release. “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 Broward County School Board voted 8-1 earlier this month to keep its mask mandate for students in place to begin the school year, with School Board Member Lori Alhadeff, the lone dissenter.
At a Special School Board meeting Tuesday, Broward County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said the board and district “believe we are in compliance, and we continue to receive legal advisement that we are in compliance to the rules as well as the order that was put out there.
“In the spirit of cooperation, we are continuing to comply with those sanctions that have been imposed from the commissioner regarding our daily reporting of students who face a consequence for not wearing a mask. The health of our students, teachers, and staff continues to be our highest priority. As such, we will continue to mandate the masks, knowing that our data…is demonstrating that the use of the masks is helping to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”
As of Aug. 31, Broward schools have reported 647 confirmed COVID-19 cases: 418 among students and 229 among staff, data show.
Cartwright said the school board would take up the mask mandate issue again after Labor Day to see whether any adjustments to the policy are necessary.
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.