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Florida commissioner: Fines still possible for Hillsborough, Sarasota counties over school masks

Richard Corcoran indicated "everyone will be treated the same" when it comes to not following the state's rules.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — While the final outcome of Hillsborough and Sarasota counties' school mask mandates has yet to be determined, the state is pursuing withholding funding, Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said.

The commissioner, speaking Tuesday at High Point Elementary School in Clearwater, was asked by 10 Tampa Bay's Liz Crawford whether the counties' school districts run afoul of an executive order banning districts from enacting mask mandates. 

Both districts contend they are within their rights and have implemented such policies given the recent dramatic increase of COVID-19 cases caused by the more transmissible delta variant.

Corcoran indicated "everyone will be treated the same" when it comes to not following the state's rules.

If that is, indeed, the final outcome, the Department of Education could withhold the salaries of school board members as it has done in Alachua and Broward counties.

Hillsborough County Schools says its policy allows parents to opt-out. The school district requires students, teachers and staff to mask up, with an option allowing for a medical exemption opt-out from a doctor.

Sarasota County Schools says its policy "is both lawful and compliant" with the "Parents' Bill of Rights," which protects parents' rights regarding a child's education, upbringing and health care. Under the bill, DeSantis signed an order to direct the Department of Education to issue the emergency rules regarding masks.

Officials in Sarasota County allow for medical exemptions for students to opt out of wearing masks.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced last Friday that it opened an investigation into how the state's ban on mask mandates could impact students with disabilities. Earlier in the day, the District Court of Appeal granted Florida's request to reinstate the stay of a trial court's ruling against the state's school mask mandate ban.