TALLAHASSI, Florida (AP) – Florida has denied funding to two school districts over their coronavirus mask demands, ignoring threats from White House officials who warned such punishments would be in violation of federal law.
School officials in Alachua and Broward counties said Wednesday that the state has secured school board salaries and general funding equal to federal aid packages designed to ease state sanctions on mask requirements. This month, more than $ 164,000 was withheld in the Alachua School District, and over $ 455,000 was withheld from Broward.
The punishments are the latest in an ongoing feud between the White House and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s administration over coronavirus-related regulations. DeSantis is eyeing a possible presidential race in 2024 and is one of several GOP governors who have come forward with a proposal to ban masked mandates.
The Florida Board of Education earlier this month approved plans to withhold monthly wages from school board members in districts with class mask requirements and to cut overall funding if those districts receive a federal grant to offset state penalties.
The announcement came just days after the US Department of Education sent a letter to Florida warning that deducting money from the counties that received the grant would violate federal law. The letter added that the federal government “stands ready to initiate enforcement action to stop these unacceptable state actions.”
Florida’s ban on the use of school masks quickly sparked litigation. In the summer, a Leon County judge ruled that DeSantis did not have the authority to prohibit the use of school masks in local schools under the Florida Parents Bill of Rights Act. The governor appealed and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to suspend the mandate ban pending the merits of the case.
The government did not immediately comment on it. The Federal Department of Education did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.