The Biden Administration is offering a helping hand to school districts that are fed up with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ handling of COVID-19.
In a Friday letter to DeSantis and Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona offered financial assistance to schools in the state implementing their own mask mandates to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
On July 30, DeSantis announced an executive order banning school districts from imposing mask mandates for students. As punishment for defiance, DeSantis said that he would strip pay for teachers and administrators in Florida schools instituting masked mandates. Then, he backpedaled. DeSantis admitted that he could take away teacher salaries. Instead, the governor warned of “consequences.” And he began to call for financial penalties for defying his order.
Cardona wrote in response that he was “deeply concerned about Florida’s July 30 Executive Order prohibiting school districts from adopting universal masking policies,” a policy that breaks from Center for Disease Control recommendations.
Some schools in the state had moved forward with mask mandates despite DeSantis’s threats. Cardona wrote that the Department of Education, “stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction.”
“We are eager to partner with [Florida’s Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators,” Cardona continued. “If FL DOE does not wish to pursue such an approach, the Department will continue to work directly with the school districts and educators that serve Florida’s students.”
In a statement to Politico on Friday evening, DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw criticized the White House for the move, saying that it shouldn’t be spending money “on the salaries of superintendents and elected politicians, who don’t believe that parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children, than on Florida’s students, which is what these funds should be used for.”
Earlier on Friday Florida’s Board of Education had met to consider sanctioning leaders in Alachua and Broward counties over their mask mandates. Within the past several weeks, three educators in Broward county died from coronavirus complications.
The state had received on $7 billion from the American Rescue Plan for schools. Ninety percent of which was set aside for school districts.
Florida has hit all time coronavirus case and hospitalization records in the past weeks. Deaths from the virus steadily climbed back, too. The state is averaging upwards of 160 deaths per day. Some hospitals have started “stacking patients in hallways” to accommodate the surging amount of people who need care.