FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Hours after receiving notice from the state that funding will be withheld over their face mask mandate, Broward County Public Schools said Tuesday that they believe their COVID-19 policy is within the law.
“We continue to receive legal advisement that we are in compliance to the rules as well as to the order that was put out there,” Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said at a school board meeting.
“For us, this is not about politics,” she added after the meeting. “This is truly about a pandemic.”
On Monday, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced that the public school districts in Broward and Alachua counties will have the amount of school board members’ monthly salaries withheld because of mask policies the state contends violate Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order against them.
Those are two of at least 10 districts in the state that have defied the governor’s executive order, with Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties among the others.
In Broward, the penalty amounts to about $31,000 a month, representing the monthly pay for the eight (out of nine) school board members who voted for the mandate. Each school board member makes close to $47,000 a year.
Cartwright said her district did not receive any formal communication ahead of Corcoran’s announcement Monday, which followed an Aug. 20 letter of warning the education commissioner had sent.
“We’re going to fight to protect parent’s rights to make health care decisions for their children,” Corcoran wrote Monday, adding, “elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”
#BREAKING: @EducationFL Commisioner @richardcorcoran follows through w threat; says they will withhold #salaries of #school board members in @browardschools and @AlachuaSchools. So what about the other 8 school districts who aren’t complying? @WPLGLocal10 pic.twitter.com/mCEGjfR0Xz— Hatzel Vela (@HatzelVelaWPLG) August 30, 2021
But last week, a Leon County judge ruled against DeSantis and the state, saying the governor overreached his authority and that school districts can enact mask mandates to protect students and staff against the spread of COVID-19.
The judge’s written order is expected to be issued Tuesday.
And the governor is expected to appeal the ruling.
In the meantime, Cartwright says the mask mandate will stay in place in Broward, adding that school infection data shows masks are minimizing the spread of the virus.
Broward started the new school year Aug. 18, and as of Monday, the district reported there were 553 documented coronavirus infections at schools, including the cases of 350 students and 205 employees.
School officials say about 4-6 students each day in Broward refuse to wear a mask. That’s out of about 260,000 across the district.
The superintendent and school board will revisit the mask policy after Labor Day, Cartwright said.
The school board voted 8-1 on Aug. 10 to make masks mandatory for teachers and staff, with the only exceptions being for people with medical reasons for opting out. DeSantis’ stance is that parents should have the right to opt their children out of wearing masks for any reason.
On behalf of the Broward School Board, attorneys in Tallahassee will likely file an injunction. Also expect Broward Schools to file a challenge to the rule in the next 48 hours.
“As a school district it is more trauma that is being caused on the district,” Broward School Board Chair Rosalind Osgood said, “We have no been given any due process in this matter.”
President Joe Biden has said he would use federal funding to replace money withheld by the state over mask mandates.
“It is totally disrespectful for the governor and education commissioner to move forward with withholding school board members’ salaries because they voted for a mask mandate in Broward County Public Schools,” Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said in a statement Tuesday. “Our board members are being penalized for doing the right thing. It is even more shocking to witness the audacity of Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ignoring a judge’s ruling that Gov. DeSantis’ actions are unconstitutional and an example of government overreach. Their behavior is reckless and is an affront to the decent school board members who are doing everything they can to minimize the transmission of the virus and its Delta variant. What tragedy will it take for the governor to stop playing his games?”