Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is warning school superintendents and board members who defy his executive order prohibiting mask mandates that they could face loss of wages, CBS4 in Miami reports.
"With respect to enforcing any financial consequences for noncompliance of state law regarding these rules and ultimately the rights of parents to make decisions about their children's education and health care decisions, it would be the goal of the State Board of Education to narrowly tailor any financial consequences to the offense committed," a statement from DeSantis' office read.
"For example, the State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law," the statement continued.
"Education funding is intended to benefit students first and foremost, not systems," the statement went on. "The Governor's priorities are protecting parents' rights and ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality education that meets their unique needs."
The statement appears to be a response to news last week that DeSantis had threatened funding to districts that did not follow his order, causing two districts to reverse their mask mandates. Monday's statement seemed to clarify that only salaries for superintendents and board members would be withheld, and not funding for education or teachers' or staff salaries.
The news comes days after a group of parents in Florida asked a judge to block DeSantis' executive order that bans school districts from imposing mask requirements when classes resume in the fall.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in state court, comes amid a national debate about whether children in schools should wear masks as the delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps the country and case counts rise. The lawsuit argues that DeSantis' order violates a provision of the state constitution that requires public officials to ensure schools are safe for students.
"The Executive Order impairs the safe operation of schools," the parents said in the lawsuit, which was filed in Leon County. "Students will become sick and potentially die as a result of the failure to follow the mandatory masking requirements" set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
School leaders across the country are facing complex pressures as millions of students prepare to return to classes. The delta variant is highly contagious, though it still appears that children typically fare better with the virus than their elders do. But they may bring deadly infections home.
Early this summer, the CDC said that only unvaccinated children need masks at school. In the face of delta, however, the CDC changed its guidance on July 27, advising that everyone should wear masks in schools.
At least seven states, including Arizona, Arkansas and Texas, have banned local school districts from requiring pupils to wear masks. Other states, such as California and Washington, have required them in public schools but with some flexibility for school districts.
DeSantis issued his executive order banning mask requirements on July 30, calling the CDC's rules "unscientific and inconsistent." DeSantis' office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Several of the parents who filed the suit have children with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, that make them especially vulnerable to COVID. Others are simply concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in a setting populated by unvaccinated students. The executive order creates an ''imminent and actual threat'' to those students, the lawsuit says.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana who practiced medicine for more than two decades, said that he disagreed with DeSantis and that the governor's order violates conservative principles that favor local-level decision-making.
"The local officials should have control here," Cassidy said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "When it comes to local conditions, if my hospital is full, and my vaccination rate is low, and infection rate is going crazy, we should allow local officials to make those decisions best for their community."
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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