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State vows to dock Broward school board pay over mask mandate; Biden steps in

Board has 48 hours to respond; President says he will make sure they get paid

Salaries will be withheld for Broward County school board members who voted to enact a face mask requirement that defies Gov. Ron DeSantis' orders. President Joe Biden says he stands in support of the school district as the fight goes on.
Salaries will be withheld for Broward County school board members who voted to enact a face mask requirement that defies Gov. Ron DeSantis' orders. President Joe Biden says he stands in support of the school district as the fight goes on.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The State of Florida Board of Education notified the Broward School Board Friday that it has 48 hours to comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order regarding mask mandates at schools or a portion of their salaries will be deducted on a monthly basis until they are in compliance.

If they choose to not be in compliance, the school board has 48 hours to provide Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran with the current annual salaries of all board members.

“An amount equal to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of the school board” will then be withheld each month, “as an initial step,” the letter stated.

“Monthly withholding must continue until the School Board of Broward County demonstrates compliance, the State Board of Education withdraws this order, or when the emergency rule expires or is withdrawn,” the notice stated. “If the School Board of Broward County fails to provide the requested compensation information within the 48 hour period, the Florida Department of Education shall withhold state funds based on the most recent appropriations estimate until the school board provides the current estimate.”

After news of that threat, President Joe Biden tweeted Friday that the federal government will ensure that school board members get paid in Broward and other districts in the same clash with the state.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called the Florida education board’s move “deeply troubling” and said he spoke with Broward Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright on Friday.

“The Biden Administration is fully committed to a safe and healthy return to in-person learning for all students this fall,” Cardona said in a statement. “It is deeply troubling to see state leaders putting politics ahead of the health and safety of our students, and that instead of supporting our educators for doing the right thing, state leaders are trying to punish them. This week, the President asked me to do everything I can to help protect our nation’s students and support the local leaders who are fighting for them.

“Let me reiterate: we stand ready to assist any district facing repercussions for imposing CDC-recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies that will protect the health and safety of students, educators, and staff. To that end, we’ve also made clear to district leaders that any financial penalties imposed by the state can be addressed immediately using CARES, CRRSA, or American Rescue Plan funds. Today, I also spoke directly to the Superintendents of Broward and Alachua County schools to reassure them that the President and his Administration stand with them and with all educators who put student and staff health and education first.”

Under the governor’s order, public schools must allow parents or legal guardians the option to opt-out of their child from wearing a face covering or mask.

Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties may also face similar discipline from the state after their school boards voted to enact similar mask mandates.

The Broward School Board has been adamant that their mask mandate is for the safety of students and staff members as the pandemic continues, and the district’s interim superintendent said there were only two cases on the first day of school where people refused to wear masks.

Broward School Board Chair Rosalind Osgood said in a statement Friday that the board believes it is operating legally.

“Our School Board voted to continue our mask mandate, in accordance with School Board Policy, as we started this school year. The School Board also authorized our General Counsel and Interim Superintendent to explore legal avenues to challenge the Governor’s recent executive order, as well as the rules adopted by the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Health, including any subsequent penalties,” the statement says. “Our School Board believes our District is in compliance. We have provided exceptions to the mask mandate for our students with IEPs or Section 504 plans, and for those who have a medical condition and provide signed documentation from a licensed medical professional.

“Our School Board feels the Governor is overreaching his authority. The Constitution of the State of Florida gives local school boards the authority to make policies that govern local school districts. We will provide our response to today’s Order within 48 hours as requested.”

The state Board of Education warned that it may impose additional sanctions until the school district is in compliance.

“It is important to remember that this issue is about ensuring local school board members, elected politicians, follow the law. These public officials have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida. We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” Corcoran said in a statement. “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. This is simply unacceptable behavior.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who plans to run for governor against the Republican DeSantis, said she backs to school board members.

“I think that every school board member in the state of Florida who has made this bold decision to protect their kids in their classrooms knew that something like this could happen,” Fried told Local 10 News on Friday. “There is going to be a legal team behind each of these board members. We have the White House who said that they are going to support them. Because I also don’t believe that this action is just, and I also don’t believe that this action is lawful. They are operating under, I believe, the governor’s unlawful order.”

Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco has also backed the school board’s decision, saying in a statement Friday that “the governor, the Commissioner of Education and the Department of Education all overstepped their power. Instead of doing everything they can to keep our students and employees safe during a raging pandemic, they are punishing our brave school board members for doing their job of educating students in the safest possible environment.”

Corcoran had also threatened the salaries of superintendents, but the letter Friday made no mention of that.

READ FULL LETTER TO BROWARD SCHOOL BOARD BELOW:


About the Authors:

Amanda Batchelor is the managing editor for Local10.com.

Michael Putney came to Local 10 in 1989 to become senior political reporter and host of "This Week In South Florida with Michael Putney." He is Local 10's senior political reporter.