Mask mandates could cost Florida school officials their salaries

The Florida Board of Education may withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who enact mask mandates in schools, Governor Ron DeSantis’ office said Monday. DeSantis last week signed an executive order barring school districts in the state from requiring students to wear masks in school.

“It would be the goal of the State Board of Education to narrowly tailor any financial consequences to the offense committed,” the governor’s office said in a statement to CBS Miami. “For example, the State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law.”

The statement appears to clarify penalties mentioned in DeSantis’ executive order, which read “The Florida Commissioner of Education shall pursue all legal means available to ensure school districts adhere to Florida law, including but not limited to withholding state funds from non-compliant school boards violating any rules or agency action taken pursuant to Section 1 above.”

The vagueness of the order led some to criticize the governor for seemingly threatening to withhold education funds meant to help support children in public schools. “The decision to try to withdraw funds or withhold funds from school districts who are trying to make decisions in the best interest of public safety is really disturbing to me,” said Sarah Leonardi, a school board member in Broward County.

DeSantis’ order came shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance, recommending all K-12 students wear masks for in-person learning.

Florida is experiencing its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant. More than 12,000 patients were hospitalized in the state due to COVID-19 as of last Thursday. Last week, Florida also reported around 13,400 pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations, more than any other state.