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Will Tampa Bay school board members lose salaries over masks?

The Florida Department of Education sent a letter to Hillsborough County Schools with one final warning.

TAMPA, Fla. — The back and forth over facemasks continues between Tallahassee and Tampa Bay.

Currently, two school districts in the Tampa Bay area are considered in violation of the emergency order by Gov. Ron DeSantis which bans districts from requiring universal mask mandates for students.

Hillsborough and Sarasota enacted mask policies in August requiring face coverings for all students and staff. Both policies allow for medical exemptions but individuals need a signed doctor's note.

On Monday, the requirement in Sarasota automatically expired and the facemask policy became optional starting Monday, Sept. 27.

Sarasota's policy included an automatic expiration and reinstatement based on percent positivity within the county. 

Sarasota school board member Tom Edwards told 10 Tampa Bay once the county went three consecutive days with a percent positivity of 8 percent or less, the district's mask mandate would expire.

A spokesperson with the district said if the county climbs back up to a 10 percent positivity rate the requirement will automatically reinstate.

It's unclear how this change will impact Sarasota's status with the Florida Department of Education.

On Thursday, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter to leaders with Hillsborough County Public Schools issuing one final warning to eliminate the mask requirement or the state with start withholding the salaries of school board members.

The letter said in part, "As I have done before, if you fail to document full compliance, I intend to recommend to the State Board of Education that the Department of Education withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for all members of the School Board, as well as other sanctions authorized by law, for the period during which the district has been out of compliance."

Friday, the district responded in a letter maintaining their argument that the district is in compliance because they offer a medical opt-out.

School Board member Nadia Combs said, "I got into this position because I love our district and I love children. I’m not going to let the threat of my salary being taken away have any influence on my decision."

Combs filed the motion for the mandate back in August and voted in favor of the extension in September. However, on Monday she told 10 Tampa Bay she probably won't vote to extend the policy again at the end of the thirty days.

The Hillsborough School Board will be discussing the current policy at their meeting on Oct. 5. The current policy is set to expire on Oct. 15.

The State Board of Education announced it will meet on Oct. 7 to discuss the compliance of 11 Florida school districts, including Hillsborough and Sarasota.

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