U.S. Dept of Education threatens state education leaders over school masking

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 5:51 PM CDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - The U.S. Department of Education is warning the Florida’s Department of Education it could face sanctions if it continues to penalize school districts that implement mask mandates.

The letter is the latest escalation in a continued back and fourth between local governments, the state and feds over masking in schools.

The letter from the U.S. Department of Education comes in response to the state vowing to withhold additional money from school boards if they backfill their salaries with federal dollars.

Alachua Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon told us her district never took the federal aid.

“But we are watching, and in the event that we need to draw down funding from the federal government, when we do, we will let the commissioner know,” said Simon.

The letter threatens enforcement action, but the state isn’t backing down.

In a statement, the Florida Department of Education called the letter ‘legally hollow’ and said it would continue forward, ‘lawfully, as we have this entire time’.

“Governor DeSantis is in the catbird seat,” said State Representative Randy Fine.

Fine, who chairs the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, said while it’s not clear exactly what the feds are threatening, he sees no reason for the state to worry.

“It ends when California and New York taxpayers pay for education in Florida, which I think would be an outstanding outcome and I hope President Biden does it,” said Fine.

The school masking debate is expected to enter the halls of the Capitol in an upcoming special session, and it’s a Republican State Senator from Alachua County who is leading the charge.

Senator Keith Perry’s bill would make any school mask mandate null and void.

Dr. Simon called the proposal shortsighted.

“Right now we’re talking about COVID. What about other future viruses that might come about?” said Simon.

And Rep. Fine told us beyond the legislation, school districts that fought the state over masking should expect additional punishment saying he doesn’t think they will have a good budget year.

Rep Fine also said he believes local officials that implement mask mandates should face criminal charges, but the legislation currently on the table does not include any specific penalties.