ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was at an elementary school Wednesday in St. Petersburg during the county's first day of the new school year.
DeSantis was joined by Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran at Lakewood Elementary School.
During a news conference, he applauded the school for going from an "F"-grade school in 2019 to an "A"-level school in 2021. The Florida Department of Education did not release school rankings in 2021.
Commissioner Richard Corcoran noted that Lakewood had likely already achieved an "A"-grade in 2020, but they didn't know it.
DeSantis also recognized Florida's teacher of the year, who teaches in Pinellas County.
He personally handed out $1,000 bonus checks to teachers, as he had done earlier this week. Earlier this year, Florida legislators included the bonus for all teachers in the state budget, as well as a similar bonus for first responders as a "small token" to recognize their hard work and dedication throughout the continued coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis has been in some contention with school districts across Florida and faced criticism from national leaders, including President Joe Biden and the White House, for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and recent executive order banning mask mandates for students.
Pinellas County Schools "strongly recommends" masks inside schools but has not issued a mandate.
Since signing the order, DeSantis has maintained he believes it's a parent's right to decide whether their children should wear masks on school campuses.
But several Florida counties have defied his order, including Broward, Alachua and Leon, by approving full mask mandates inside schools. In the Tampa Bay area, only Hillsborough County is requiring masks for students but has an opt-out form parents can sign to exempt their children.
DeSantis' order says schools could risk losing funding for going against the order, and later specified superintendents could lose their salaries if they moved forward with mask mandates.
Hillsborough County Superintendent Addison Davis says the opt-out averts DeSantis' threat to pull funding from the district.
Since then, Florida Senate Democrats announced they would be putting together a GoFundMe for superintendents if they lose their salaries for defying the governor's executive order. The lawmakers called DeSantis' penalties for school mask mandates "a reckless quest to defund public education."