The Biden administration is offering money to Florida school districts defying government leader Ron DeSantis’ mask ban as COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations have soared in the state.
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Minister of Education Miguel Cardona on Friday sent a letter against DeSantis and the Florida Education Commissioner saying school districts can use federal funds at their discretion to pay the salaries of administrators and board members withheld by the state for defying the order.
“We are eager to collaborate with [the Florida Department of Education] on all efforts to achieve our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and teachers,” 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 serving Florida’s students.”
A DeSantis spokeswoman criticized the Biden administration for wanting to spend federal funds “on the salaries of inspectors and elected politicians, who don’t believe that parents have the right to choose what’s best for their children than Florida’s students.” , and that’s what this money should be used for.”
The Republican governor last month signed an executive order ban school districts from making face masks mandatory for students and staff who defend “parents’ freedom of choice.” The order came days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised all students and staff to wear masks when they return this fall.
On Monday, the governor’s office threatened to withhold salaries from school board members and inspectors who violated the ban. DeSantis has also threatened to withhold state funding from districts.
But Cardona said local school leaders should be able to create their own mask rules.
“Any threat from Florida to withhold salaries from superintendents and school board members who work to protect students and educators (or to impose other financial sanctions) can be addressed through primary and secondary school emergency response. [ESSER] funds solely and entirely at the discretion of Florida school districts,” Cardona wrote.
Florida received more than $7 billion in relief funds as part of the American Relief Plan, 90 percent of which is for ESSR funding, according to Politico. Cordona accused the school of failing to provide the school districts with that funding by May 24, when they should have.
“In fact, it appears that Florida has prioritized threatening to withhold state funds from school districts working to reopen schools safely, rather than protecting students and educators and giving school districts the federal pandemic recovery funds they are entitled to.” he wrote.
President Biden has argued with DeSantis over the mask mandate ban — and recently personally called the school districts that have rallied, according to the Miami Herald.
He told one, Broward County stands ready to support their school districts and communities to return to safe, full-time, personal learning,” the Herald reported.
Four district teachers in Broward County died of COVID-19 within 24 hours this week, Anna Fusco, president of the Broward Teachers Union told CBS News.
Broward and Alachua County are just two of the state’s 67 counties that have passed mask mandates.
Cardona added he is “deeply concerned” about the governor’s executive order as the coronavirus outbreak worsens in the state.
Florida health officials said Friday that the number of deaths from COVID-19 rose significantly this week to 1,000, from 600 reported the previous week, pushing the state’s death toll to 40,766.
The number of hospital admissions rose slightly on Friday from 15,358 to 15,441 patients, of whom about 3,200 are in intensive care.
The Sunshine State has recorded an average of 21,680 cases per day for the past week, officials said.
With Post wires