Florida board moves to fine more schools over Covid-19 mask mandates

Students in masks are seen in their classroom on the first day of school in Florida on Aug 18, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

FLORIDA (BLOOMBERG) - Florida's State Board of Education said Thursday (Oct 7) that authorities could move ahead with fines on some of the largest school districts because they refused to relax their mask mandates in defiance of a state rule.

The board gave Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran the go-ahead to withhold funds equivalent to the salaries of school board members in eight defiant school districts, including Miami-Dade, the nation's fourth largest school system, according to a statement from the Florida Department of Education.

The board held a conference call Thursday to hear from districts that have gone against Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who has made opposition to mask mandates a signature policy issue this year. DeSantis, 43, is expected to seek re-election in 2022 and is considered a potential presidential candidate.

The state board has already withheld funds from two defiant districts - in Alachua and Broward counties.

For months, DeSantis feuded with the Biden administration over a state executive order that set in motion an eventual prohibition on schools from imposing mask mandates that don't have a parental opt-out provision. DeSantis drew national attention with the ban and subsequent threats to withhold the salaries of defiant school officials.

US President Joe Biden has pledged to offset those financial losses by sending schools federal funds, triggering a feud between the federal and state education departments.

DeSantis's attempt to dictate school mask policies triggered raucous board meetings across Florida, where district after district voted to defy the governor after hearing from angry parents. Some parents sued to challenge the mask mandate ban, which remains in force pending the litigation.

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