School board members from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and seven other counties were handed a little more than detention Thursday, when the Florida Board of Education decided to dock annual salaries from those who insisted on mask mandates.
Florida’s Department of Health had previously banned mask mandates, requiring a doctor’s approval to opt out.
Challenges from school superintendents and school board members across the state led to warnings from State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who issued the executive order on banning mask mandates back on July 30.
But Miami-Dade County Public Schools officials, led by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, voted 7-1 on Aug. 18 to defy the state order and become the third school district to approve a mask requirement for the entire school year.
Eventually, 13 school districts across the state, representing about 1 million students, decided on mask mandates, despite threats of penalties.
“I felt it ironic we are spending so much time and resources arguing about the temporary inconvenience of wearing a mask,” Carvalho told the Board of Education.
Last month, he told reporters his decision was “not a political ploy, it’s a necessity considering the environmental and the health conditions in our community currently.”
Seven other school districts were penalized: Broward, Alachua, Brevard, Duval, Leon, Orange and Palm Beach. Districts have 48 hours to comply before the penalties begin.
Corcoran recommended each district be fined in an amount equal to the monthly salaries of board members. The State Board gave approval, even without a roll call vote.
According to reports, the local school board member pay is in the low to high $40,000s.
State funds equal to any federal grant funds awarded also will be withheld.
Alachua and Broward school board members already were funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Project SAFE grant, created by the Biden administration to provide reimbursement to school districts facing penalties from the state for implementing mask mandates that comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There still is some confusion about the districts’ mask mandates and opt-out loopholes due to medical clearance, and whether that was in compliance.
In question is who has ultimate authority — local school boards or the state.
The state rule allows parents and guardians to opt out anytime from making their child wear a mask in school.
United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernández-Mats released a statement Thursday afternoon:
“We stand in support of Superintendent Carvalho as he defends the position to protect the safety and well-being of our M-DCPS students, faculty and staff. The sanctions to defend schools by the FLDOE and governor are both negligent and irresponsible and impede upon our ability to provide for the safety of our students, teachers and staff.
“These actions also infringe on the rights of our locally elected school board to comply with their constitutional obligation to provide a safe learning environment for our children. This is yet another reminder to our community that our state government is disconnected from our community needs and our local conditions as we shield children from COVID.”
On Wednesday, Carvalho, citing lower cases of COVID, announced looser restrictions in Miami-Dade County concerning quarantine protocols for middle school students — now five days with a negative test instead of 10 days — beginning Monday.
Last month, Miami-Dade County Public Schools filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Health’s rules, seeking to invalidate Gov. DeSantis’ emergency rule. The lawsuit called the idea of allowing parents to opt out of mask mandates “illogical” and “irrational,” saying it only promotes the spread of COVID-19.