By Maria Caspani
(Reuters) -The Florida Board of Education on Friday told two school districts they would have some of their state funding withheld if they failed within the next 48 hours to provide parents with a way to opt out of a requirement that their children wear masks.
School boards in Broward and Alachua counties have mandated masks in schools in defiance of an executive order issued last month by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that barred local officials from imposing mask mandates.
Like some other Republican governors, DeSantis has called mask-wearing a personal choice which, for students, should be made by parents.
“These are the initial consequences to their intentional refusal to follow state law and state rule to purposefully and willingly violate the rights of parents,” Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said in a statement on Friday.
The order was the latest development in the raging debate over mask-wearing in some U.S. states where the coronavirus further exposed deep political fault lines.
Earlier this week, the state Board of Education voted unanimously to punish the two counties for mandating masks.
It said https://www.fldoe.org/newsroom/latest-news/state-board-of-education-orders-school-boards-of-alachua-and-broward-counties-to-follow-the-law.stml on Friday that both school districts will be required to provide the commissioner of education with information regarding the salaries of school board members within 48 hours, with the intent of cutting their pay.
The Florida Department of Education “will then begin to withhold from state funds, on a monthly basis, an amount equal to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of the school board members who voted to impose the unlawful mask mandates until each district demonstrates compliance,” the statement said.
In a tweet, President Joe Biden expressed solidarity with the two school districts.
“American Rescue Plan funds can be used to backfill the salaries of the brave Florida school board members, superintendents, and other educators keeping our children safe,” he wrote.
Florida is battling a resurgence of COVID-19 spurred by the highly contagious Delta variant, which is spreading infections mostly among the unvaccinated.
Coronavirus hospitalizations have increased by 28% in the past two weeks, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The state has reported more than 2.91 million COVID-19 cases, trailing only Texas and California.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Anurag Maan in BenagaluruEditing by Matthew Lewis and Aurora Ellis)