The governor’s executive order was ruled unconstitutional by a state judge last week.
Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has begun withholding the salaries of school district administrators who have refused to comply with his unconstitutional executive order prohibiting them from enforcing mask mandates in schools.
NBC 8 in Florida reports that Mr DeSantis via the state’s Department of Education is withholding the salaries of school board members who refused to comply with the governor’s executive order.
Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran announced the move on Tuesday, noting that administrators in Alachua and Broward counties would have their salaries withheld.
Mr Corcoran claims that both districts enacted mandatory mask policies that do not allow for parents to opt-out.
The announcement comes at a time when the legality of Mr DeSantis’s executive order is in flux.
Last week, a Florida judge ruled in favour of a group of parents that sued Mr DeSantis on the grounds that his directive was unconstitutional executive overreach. The ruling prevents the state from outright banning mask mandates in schools.
Mr Corcoran said the state’s education department intended to fight the ruling.
“We’re going to fight to protect parent’s rights to make health care decisions for their children. They know what is best for their children. What’s unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” he said.
Mr Corcoran said the department retains the right to issue sanctions on the administrators, who it says are not in compliance with state law. The sanctions will continue each month until the administrators comply with Mr DeSantis’s mandate.
“What’s unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” he said.
Based on the judge’s ruling, however, Mr DeSantis’s executive order is unconstitutional.
Carlee Simon, the Superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said she was “very troubled by the state’s action,” in a statement.
“Our School Board members made a courageous decision to protect the health and lives of students, staff and the people of this community, and a court has already ruled they had the legal right to do so. They deserve praise, not penalties,” she said.
Vickie Cartwright, the Public Schools Interim Superintendent for Broward County, also said she believed her district was complying with state law per the judge’s ruling.
“The health and safety of our students, teachers and staff continue to be our main priorities. As such, BCPS will continue to mandate masks, knowing the data shows they help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our schools,” Ms Cartwright said in a statement. “As previously stated, this decision will be reviewed by the School Board after Labor Day as conditions may change and modification may be appropriate.”
While Florida’s Covid-19 cases are declining, the state is still far from a full recovery from the fourth wave of the pandemic. Earlier this month, the state recorded more cases in a single day than at any other time during the pandemic.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted its guidelines earlier this summer to recommend that all students, teachers and staff wear masks in the classroom to prevent the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
During the first week of school in Florida, more than 10,000 students were quarantined or put in isolation due to exposure to the coronavirus.
Hillsborough County Schools reported 5,500 cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the school year. In Broward County, where masks are being required, three teachers died from Covid-19 just before the school year began. And in Palm Beach County, 440 students were quarantined just two days after the school year began.