The Biden administration is offering cash to Florida school districts that defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ mask ban as COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations rose in the state.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on Friday sent a letter to DeSantis and the Florida education commissioner saying school districts can at their “sole and complete discretion” use federal funds to pay the salaries of administrators and board members withheld by the state for defying the order.
“We are eager to partner with [the Florida Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators,” Cardona wrote.
“If FLDOE 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.”
A DeSantis spokeswoman blasted the Biden administration for wanting to spend federal funds “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.”
The Republican governor last month signed an executive order banning school districts from making face masks mandatory for students and staff defending “parents’ freedom to choose.” The order came days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended all students and staff wear masks when they return this fall.
On Monday, the governor’s office threatened to withhold the salaries of school board members and superintendents who did not comply with the ban. DeSantis has also threatened to withhold state funding from districts as well.
But Cardona said that local school leaders should be allowed to make their own mask rules.
“Any threat by Florida to withhold salaries from superintendents and school board members who are working to protect students and educators (or to levy other financial penalties) can be addressed using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief [ESSER] funds at the sole and complete discretion of Florida school districts,” Cardona wrote.
Florida received over $7 billion in support funds as part of the American Relief Plan, 90 percent of which is designated for ESSR funding, according to Politico. Cordona accused the school of not delivering school districts that funding by May 24 when it should have.
“In fact, it appears that Florida has prioritized threatening to withhold State funds from school districts that are working to reopen schools safely rather than protecting students and educators and getting school districts the Federal pandemic recovery funds to which they are entitled,” he wrote.
President Biden has been feuding with DeSantis over the mask mandate ban — and recently personally personally called school districts who have stood up to the order, according to the Miami Herald.
He told one, Broward County, stands ready to support their school districts and communities to get back to safe, full-time, in-person learning,” the Herald reported.
Four Broward County district teachers died of COVID-19 within the span of 24 hours this week, Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco told CBS News.
Broward and Alachua County are only two of the state’s 67 districts that have adopted mask mandates.
Cardona added that he is “deeply concerned” about the governor’s executive order as the state’s coronavirus outbreak seems to be taking a turn for the worse.
Florida health officials said Friday that the number of deaths from COVID-19 jumped significantly to 1,000 this week, from the 600 reported the previous week, raising the state’s death toll to 40,766.
Hospitalizations rose slightly on Friday from 15,358 to 15,441 patients, including about 3,200 who are in intensive care units.
The Sunshine State is now averaging 21,680 cases per day over the last week, officials said.
With Post wires
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