The Sarasota County School Board
As tensions rise over punitive measures by the state, several school boards face a 5 p.m. deadline today to comply with state mask policies that some school boards believe are not appropriate to combat COVID-19 amid a surge in Florida.
Already, two school boards, Alachua and Broward, have gotten pay cuts from the State Department of Education. Board members are elected by voters and do get paid for their duties.
At least another half dozen boards have gotten letters stating that their pay could also be cut if they do not comply with DeSantis administration policies allowing parents to opt out of mask mandates.
At issue is a handful of districts that have implemented more-strict mask mandates. The Florida Constitution says that local school boards have power to make decisions over their schools. And last Friday, a circuit court judge ruled that those strict mask mandates are legal. But state education officials pursued punitive action anyway.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a COVID-related news conference Wednesday, mentioned that the judge’s ruling was verbal and the written order has not been released.
The governor was asked by reporters about the Department of Education docking pay for local boards that implemented strict mask mandates — against the administration’s policies.
One reporter asked about the federal government — essentially, the Biden administration — subsidizing those salary cuts to cover the local boards.
“The federal government wants to bail out union-backed politicians with tax dollars? That is not a good use, to bail out politicians.”
Jackie Johnson, communications staffer for Alachua County School District, told the Phoenix in an email that Alachua school board members “are not part of a union. I’m not sure how I would even define ‘union-backed.'”
She continued: “…but at least two of the board members targeted by the state were not endorsed by the local union representing teachers and education support professionals during their last elections.”
While local school boards are getting docked pay, the state Department of Education are sitting on billions of federal dollars that have not been used, according to the U.S. Department of Education data.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who was holding a moment of silence Wednesday morning recognizing some 45,000 Floridians who died from COVID, answered press questions following the event.
Responding to questions from the media, she said that DeSantis “should be working with the rest of us across the state to be pushing vaccines, to be pushing mask mandates. Not going after school board members. Not threatening to take, again, money away from them.”
Fried is campaigning to be the Democratic nominee for the 2022 gubernatorial election, and has been very critical of how Gov. Ron DeSantis has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, these are the school boards with strict mask mandates possibly facing punishment from the Florida Department of Education: Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Orange, Leon, Duval, Indian River, Brevard, Lee and Volusia, as well as the FSU Lab school.
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