Florida Board of Education votes to punish schools that require masks as COVID spikes

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Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said he feared masks would impact kids' 'health.'

Two major counties in Florida will be punished for instituting mask mandates in public schools amid a massive outbreak of COVID-19 after the state's board of education unanimously voted to penalize those school leaders, according to a report from a local television station.

It's still unclear what penalties the state will levy against the two counties — Broward and Alachua — for the mask mandates.

Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order at the end of July banning mask requirements in schools, though he backed off a threat to withhold pay from school officials after he discovered he does not have the authority to do so.

However, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran — a former GOP state legislator who also served as chief of staff to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) — wrote in a letter to the State Board of Education that if the board "determines that a district is unwilling or able to comply with the law or state board rule, it is authorized to impose sanctions in order to secure compliance, including the withholding of funds and reporting to the legislature."

At a Tuesday meeting to vote on whether to punish the counties, Corcoran said that he is worried about the impact to children's health if they are required to wear masks.

"What we all are concerned about, what we should be concerned about, is the health and education of our children," Corcoran said, according to WFLA's report.

Florida, for its part, has the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the entire country, according to data from the New York Times — in terms of cases, hospitalization rates, and deaths. The state is currently averaging 115 cases per 100,000 residents, and has the highest daily death average, with an average of nearly 138 residents dying of COVID-19 in the state per day.

The outbreak in the state has already caused massive problems for public schools. For example, Hillsborough County — which includes the city of Tampa — was forced to put more than 8,000 students and staff into quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure, according to a Tuesday report from the Washington Post. The outbreak has the county considering a mask mandate.

The board of education voted to punish the two school districts the same day polling came out that found broad support for mask requirements in schools.

More than two-thirds, or 69%, of adults support mandatory masking in schools, according to an Axios-Ipsos survey. What's more, more than three-quarters, or 77%, of adults oppose efforts like DeSantis' to punish local schools and governments that put mask requirements in place.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.