TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The state of Florida has withheld funding from two school districts over their coronavirus mask mandates, flouting threats from White House officials who warned that such penalties would violate federal law.
School officials in Alachua and Broward counties on Wednesday said the state docked school board salaries and overall funding in amounts equal to federal aid packages meant to blunt the state’s sanctions on mask requirements.
The penalties are the latest development in an ongoing feud between the White House and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration over coronavirus regulations.
The news comes just one day after the Biden administration warned Florida that withholding federal grant money over mask mandates would be a violation of federal law, The Hill reports.
According to The Hill, the letter addressed to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said it expects the state "to comply with all requirements applicable to its federal grant awards. If FLDOE moves forward with its planned reduction of state aid to Alachua and Broward, the Department is prepared to initiate enforcement action to stop these impermissible state actions."
Alachua County's superintendent said the state made cuts to their budget before the district even received the federal grant it applied for.
“I am appalled that the state would penalize the district by pulling funding we have not even received,” Superintendent Carlee Simon said in a statement required by The Gainesville Sun.
“Altogether the state has withheld more than $192,000 from our district for taking appropriate action to protect students and staff. More than 75% of that amount is not board member salaries, but rather funding intended to support students.”
Since the start of the school year, DeSantis has fought to allow parents to opt students out of school mask mandates for any reason. Both Alachua and Broward counties require doctors' notes for mask exemptions.
The Broward County school board on Tuesday voted to make masks optional for high school students, staff and visitors, but kept the mandate in place for elementary and middle schools, WPLG reports.