South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Scott Travis | October 5, 2021
A week after the Biden administration awarded Broward Schools $421,000 for defying a state ban on mask mandates, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has threatened to take that money away.
The school district received a letter today from Corcoran promising to increase the penalties to the district over mask mandates.
The state has already withheld $70,000, the equivalent of two months’ salaries of School Board members. But the Biden administration agreed to offset any cuts, last week giving the district a grant for $421,000, the equivalent of a year’s worth of School Board salaries.
But in a letter dated Monday, Corcoran now plans to recommend the State Board of Education not only continue to withhold money equivalent to board member salaries but also to withhold money in the exact amount of any federal grants the district receives “for its non-compliance” with the state emergency rule. The state board plans to vote on Corcoran’s recommendation during a meeting Thursday.
It’s the latest in a nearly two-month battle between Gov. DeSantis’s administration and the Broward school district over mask mandates. The Department of Health has issued two emergency orders saying parents must be able to opt out of any mask mandates imposed by school districts. Broward has maintained that guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mask requirements in schools.
Broward allows an opt-out only for certain medical conditions. Schools Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright initially said the state Department of Health rule was unclear about whether a medical opt only was allowed.
The Health Department, now overseen by DeSantis’s newly appointed surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, issued a new rule on Sept. 22 that made clear parents had the right to make the choice on masks The rule also gives parents the choice on whether their children are quarantined.
“Every school board member and every school superintendent has a duty to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not,” Corcoran wrote in the letter. “While the district school board may not agree with the safety protocols set forth by the Surgeon General in rule, the Surgeon General is the person who, under the law, sets protocols to control and mitigate COVID-19 in schools.”
Cartwright said she just received the letter today and she would discuss it with the School Board at a meeting this afternoon. The board also plans to discuss the new state ruling giving parents the choice on whether to quarantine their kids. So far, the district hasn’t complied with the new rule, according to a statement from the office of Chief Communications Officer Kathy Koch.
Tuesday’s meeting “is the first opportunity the School Board could meet to discuss the new rule,” the statement said. “Therefore, the District is currently following the previous guidance. The School Board will discuss and advise on the next steps.”Corcoran