Broward and Alachua counties in Florida are moving forward with mask mandates for their public school systems despite financial penalties from the state of Florida for not allowing parents to opt out of the requirement, in defiance of an order by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on Monday announced that the state’s education department had begun withholding funds from the two counties because of their mask requirements.
Statements from the counties’ school superintendents Tuesday showed that the districts aren’t backing away from the mandate.
“I’m very troubled by the state’s action. Our School Board members made a courageous decision to protect the health and lives of students, staff and the people of this community, and a court has already ruled they had the legal right to do so. They deserve praise, not penalties,” Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon said in a statement.
“We have already begun working with our colleagues in other districts to take legal action. We believe this is a necessary step to ensure that Florida’s districts have the right to act in the best interests of those they serve.”
During a meeting with the school board Tuesday, Interim Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said the mandate would continue.
“The health and the safety of our students, teachers, and staff continues to be our highest priority,” Cartwright said. “As such we will continue to mandate the mask knowing that our data, as we are looking at it, our quarantine data, is demonstrating that the use of the mask is helping to minimize the spread of Covid-19.”
Covid-19 cases in Florida have been surging, and the state is one of five that have less than 10% left of their ICU bed capacity available, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
More than 27,000 cases have been confirmed in the 15 largest school districts in Florida since the start of the school year, according to a CNN analysis. At least 45,024 students and staff members have been quarantined or put on “stay home” directives due to possible exposure to the virus.
Corcoran announced Monday that the state has started withholding funds equal to the monthly school board members’ salaries, and will continue to each month “until each school board complies with state law and rule.”
Broward County has listed nine school board members, who each earn a $46,773 annual salary. Alachua County has provided the salaries for four board members, who each earn $40,287 annually.
Broward and Alachua were the first school districts to implement mask mandates that do not include a parent opt-out, going against the governor’s executive order.
A total of 13 school districts have now moved forward with similar mask mandates, including Hillsborough, Leon, Palm Beach, Sarasota, Duval, Miami-Dade, Indian River, Orange, Lee, Brevard and Volusia, in addition to Broward and Alachua counties.
The Volusia County Schools board on Tuesday voted 3 to 2 to implement a mask mandate after a fiery board meeting that last more than five hours and included hours of public comment. Afterward, the chamber erupted with shouts of “shame on you” and “we will not comply.”
CNN’s Theresa Waldrop contributed to this report.