The Florida Department of Education made good on a threat to withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
Just days after a state judge ruled that the governor's ban was unconstitutional, Florida's education commissioner on Monday announced the state was withholding funds from Alachua and Broward counties "for their continued violation of state law."
“We’re going to fight to protect parent’s rights to make health care decisions for their children. They know what is best for their children," Richard Corcoran said in a statement Monday.
The funds, which he said amounted to "the monthly school board member salaries," would continue to be withheld in Alachua and Broward counties until the school districts complied.
"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. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow," Corcoran said.
Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon said in a statement Tuesday she was "very troubled by the state's action."
"Our School Board members made a courageous decision to protect the health and lives of students, staff and the people of this community, and a court has already ruled they had the legal right to do so. They deserve praise, not penalties," she said.
Simon added the school district has already begun to take legal action to "ensure that Florida's districts have the right to act in the best interests of those they serve."
Broward County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright said she believed the school district was also in compliance with the law.
"The health and safety of our students, teachers and staff continue to be our main priorities. As such, BCPS will continue to mandate masks, knowing the data shows they help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our schools," Cartwright said in a statement. "As previously stated, this decision will be reviewed by the School Board after Labor Day as conditions may change and modification may be appropriate."
Jared Ochs, the director of communications for the state Department of Education, told NBC News in an email Tuesday that the school funds have been withheld since Thursday.
"Our Department plans on continuing to follow the rule of law until such time as the Court issues its ruling, and subsequent to that ruling, we plan on immediately appealing this decision to the First DCA, from which we will seek to stay the ruling," he said.
Florida became the epicenter of the latest surge of the pandemic in the U.S. with record new cases and hospitalizations as the school year began earlier this month. In July, DeSantis, a Republican, barred local school districts from requiring students to wear masks even as the state battled a resurgence of the coronavirus.
A Florida judge on Friday knocked down DeSantis' order, saying the sweeping action from Tallahassee doesn't "pass constitutional muster." School districts have the right to set policies, like mask mandates, as long as they have “compelling state interest” and have a “narrowly tailored” plan of action, according to Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper's decision.
CORRECTION (Aug. 31, 2021, 2:35 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of the Broward County Public Schools interim superintendent. She is Vickie Cartwright, not Vicky.