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Florida's Mask Fight Takes a New Turn

State punishes districts over mandates despite court ruling
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 31, 2021 8:42 AM CDT
Despite Court Ruling, DeSantis Punishes School Boards
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other local representatives, holds a news conference at the Florida Department of Health's Duval offices in Arlington, Fla., on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.   (Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP)

(Newser) – The mask fight in Florida just managed to escalate. On Monday, the state announced it would financially punish two school districts for imposing mask mandates even though a court ruled Gov. Ron DeSantis had no right to do that, reports Politico. State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he would withhold money from Alachua and Broward counties—the equivalent of the school boards' monthly salaries. Corcoran issued this statement as well:

  • “We’re going to fight to protect parents' rights to make health care decisions for their children. What’s unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so.”
  • In response: Neither school board is budging. Here's the response from Broward board member Sarah Leonardi, via the Miami Herald: “Perhaps Commissioner Corcoran should re-read the Florida Constitution, because I swore an oath to provide a ‘safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools’ under Article IX, Section 1, Paragraph (a.)”

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  • Legal limbo: So isn't the state now in contempt of court? The Herald story offers a possible explanation about that. It notes that Friday's court ruling against DeSantis by Judge John C. Cooper was a verbal one. It still needed to be transcribed and then signed by the judge before becoming final, and that hadn't happened as of Monday night. If the state doesn't revoke the punishments when Cooper eventually signs the order, plaintiffs' attorney Charles Gallagher says he will file a motion for contempt.
  • One more wrinkle: All this is taking place as federal education officials push back against state officials who oppose mandates. The New York Times notes that any money the Florida school boards lose from the state might be made up by federal funds.
  • Leveling off? Florida on Monday reported another 30,712 COVID cases from over the weekend, and the Orlando Sentinel says the stats suggest the state's 2-month-long surge might be leveling off. The seven-day average is at 21,288, the lowest since Aug. 9. The state also reported 902 new deaths over the past two weeks.
(Read more Florida stories.)

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