The Florida Board of Education voted unanimously on October 7, 2021, to punish students in districts with mask mandates. The decision is in line with a state-level executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that requires parents have the sole say on whether students wear masks, doesn’t allow schools to enforce testing even in cases of known exposure, and requires schools to allow exposed students to remain in class so long as they show no symptoms.
Eight Florida school districts defied this order, following federal and CDC guidance instead and requiring masks for all students, teachers, and staff. For this, the Florida Board of Education has decided to financially sanction – a fancy word for blackmail – these districts. Any financial sanction will mean doing direct damage to the quality of education available to students.
Aside from the punishment not fitting the “crime,” five of the eight school districts are counties with the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state. Florida is currently seeing approximately 3,500 new confirmed cases per week, with over 200 deaths (rolling 7-day average as of October 11, 2021). Miami-Dade County alone has been the source over 10 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in Florida.
The stance of the Florida Board of Education is that the school districts “willingly and knowingly violated the rights of students and parents by denying them the option to make personal and private health care and educational decisions for their children.”
The U.S. Department of education said the order and sanctions were reckless “actions to prohibit implementation of strategies to limit the spread of COVID-19.”
When the executive order was first signed, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would award grants to any school sanctioned for a mask mandate. In an extremely petty response, the Florida Board of Education included additional penalties for any school receiving such a grant, to equal the amount of the grant. According to the U.S. DoE, the withholding of state funds because of any federal grant is an illegal action.
One of the counties being sanctioned has already had 10 employee deaths due to COVID-19 before they were two weeks into the fall semester.