The Biden administration is attempting to undermine Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over his policy barring school districts from enacting mask mandates.
What is the background?
DeSantis issued an executive order last month aimed at protecting "the rights of parents" to decide whether their children should wear face masks at school.
The order mandated the Florida Department of Health and Florida Department of Education to ensure that COVID-related safety protocols in schools neither "violate Floridians' constitutional freedoms" nor "violate parents' right under Florida law to make health care decisions for their minor children."
Despite claims from the White House, DeSantis did not prohibit students from wearing face masks; he merely left the decision in the hands of individual families, not elected officials.
So far, two Florida school districts have bucked DeSantis' order. "Two of Florida's 67 school districts — Broward County Public Schools and Alachua County Public Schools — have defied the governor's mask orders by requiring a doctor's note before parents can opt their children out of the districts' mask mandates," the Miami Herald reported.
What is the Biden administration doing now?
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sent DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran a letter threatening to undermine Florida's government by working directly with school districts that want to buck DeSantis' executive order.
"[W]e are eager to partner with FL DOE on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators. If FL DOE 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," the letter stated.
Cardona said that school districts can use the more than $7 billion in federal funds that were allocated to Florida education, via the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, to cover financial gaps if DeSantis makes good on his threats.
The education secretary claimed that DeSantis' order "puts students and staff at risk." However, Cardona did not cite any evidence to substantiate his claim, other than the fact that DeSantis' order does not align with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How did DeSantis respond?
The governor's communications director, Taryn Fenske, said, "This is completely unsubstantiated, and we are disappointed that the federal government is sacrificing science for their political agenda."
Fenske added that Cordona wants to "prioritize the salaries of politicians over students, parents and teachers," and said, "School board members and superintendents who break the law should be held accountable for their own decisions."