The war over mask mandates is heating up in Florida, where the administration of Governor Ron DeSantis is taking money away from school districts that require face coverings for students, and parents are queuing up to get pre-signed waiver forms from a chiropractor.
On Monday, the Florida Department of Education said it had withheld an amount equal to the monthly salaries of school administrators in Alachua and Broward counties, as directed by the State Board of Education.
Funds will be withheld until districts comply, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said.
The astonishing move came even after a Florida state judge ruled Friday that the state had no jurisdiction to enforce DeSantis’ injunction banning mask mandates in classrooms and prohibiting his government from withholding money on the matter.
DeSantis has vowed to appeal the ruling, predicting it would be quashed.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration takes money out of school districts requiring face coverings for students in defiance of court order
A protester holds a sign outside a mandate meeting for an emergency mask from the Brevard County, Florida school board in Viera on Monday
A masked student raises his hand in class at the iPrep Academy on the first day of school in Miami last week. A judge has ruled that Florida school districts can impose mask mandates
Meanwhile, in Sarasota County, where another school mask mandate went into effect Monday, hundreds of parents were seen queuing at a chiropractor to collect medical waiver forms for their children.
“We walked in and out, came in, signed a clipboard and handed over a sheet,” parent Paulina Testerman said. WJBF-TV from the scene at Twin Palms Chiropractic.
“No one has asked to see our children. The forms were pre-signed, there was a pile behind the counter and they had just been handed out.’
Chiropractor Dan Busch spoke to the ABC affiliate outside his attorney’s office and said he only granted waivers to students and parents he met in person.
“This is not a political matter. I’m not an anti-mask person or an anti-vax person, but I’m a pro-freedom, pro-choice person,” Busch said.
Busch said any “licensed health care physician” is qualified to grant medical waivers, including chiropractors.
Your dentist can do this, your psychiatrist can do this, your psychologist can do this,” he said. “You looked at things like respiratory distress, hypoxia, asthma, anxiety, depression – there are many qualifying conditions.”
In Sarasota County, where another school mask mandate went into effect Monday, hundreds of parents lined up to collect medical exemption forms for their children.
An anti-mask protester in Florida is seen Monday at a school board meeting in Brevard
Florida is one of several states where Republican governors have tried to prevent local governments and school districts from mandating masks.
These governors have said that such rules infringe on personal freedom. Proponents of mask mandates argue that the rules are needed to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, as cases are increasing particularly in areas with lower vaccination rates, driven by the highly contagious coronavirus Delta strain.
The U.S. Department of Education opened civil rights investigations Monday into the ban on mask mandates in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.
The Department of Education has dropped the ban on mask mandates in Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona because court orders or other actions have interrupted its enforcement.
But despite the Florida court order, DeSantis continues to threaten to cut funding from Alachua and Broward counties.
Broward County Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said in a statement that the Broward County School Board believes they are in compliance with the law.
“The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff remain our top priorities,” Cartwright said. “As such, BCPS (Broward County Public Schools) will continue to mandate masks, knowing the data shows they help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.”
Alachua County Superintendent Carlee Simon said in a statement, “I am deeply troubled by the state’s action.”
“Our school board members made the bold decision to protect the health and lives of students, staff and the people of this community, and a court has already ruled that they had a legal right to do so,” she said.
Florida is one of several states where Republican governors have tried to prevent local governments and school districts from requiring masks
DeSantis’ order has sparked heated debate and an outcry from some school districts claiming the rules are needed to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic
Simon said the district was working with other jurisdictions to challenge DeSantis legally.
DeSantis, a Republican targeting a possible 2024 presidential election, has been threatening to impose financial sanctions on school boards for weeks.
Democratic President Joe Biden has said that if that happened, federal money would be used to cover all costs.
Corcoran (above) said districts are violating parental rights by not allowing a parent or legal guardian to deregister their child
School districts in Alachua and Broward counties were the first of 10 to require all students to wear masks unless they had a medical exemption to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Those districts, which include cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and West Palm Beach, account for just over half of the 2.8 million Florida public school students enrolled this year.
Corcoran said those districts are violating parental rights by not allowing a parent or legal guardian to deregister their child, as required by a Florida Department of Health emergency rule.
“We are going to fight to protect parents’ rights to make health care decisions for their children,” Corcoran said in a statement. “They know what’s best for their children.”
Corcoran said elected officials, such as school board members, cannot choose which laws to follow. He said the board members promised to uphold the Constitution but failed to do so.
A boy cycles past a sign at Orlando’s Pershing School advising face masks to be mandatory for students through October 30, 2021
Meanwhile, a Tallahassee circuit judge on Friday agreed with a group of parents who argued in a lawsuit that DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.
Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper said an executive order issued by DeSantis that served as the basis for the health department’s emergency rule has no legal authority.
Cooper said his ruling won’t take effect until it’s in writing, and he asked parents’ lawyers to finalize it by Monday.
Craig Whisenhunt, one of the lawyers representing the parents, said they obeyed and expect the ruling to go into effect this week.
The governor’s office has said Cooper’s decision was not based on the law, and the state will appeal it.
The highly contagious Delta strain accelerated business around Florida and record high hospital admissions just as schools were preparing to reopen classrooms.
By mid-August, more than 21,000 new cases a day were added, compared to about 8,500 a month earlier.
Over the past week, new cases and hospitalizations have leveled off. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services counted 15,488 patients with COVID-19 in Florida hospitals, down 8 percent from the past week.