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Leon school board members get hit with fines over the district's mask mandate

A man with a red shit speaks at a podium. Behind him, are two photos of children
Patrick Sternad
/
WFSU Public Media
Superintendent of Schools Rocky Hanna holds a press conference at the Leon County School District Office this Monday afternoon to address concerns over changing mask mandates and policies in the wake of a surge in cases brought on by the delta variant of COVID-19.

The State Board of Education has levied fines against eight additional school boards over their mask mandates, including Leon County Schools. The decision comes four months after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order aimed at preventing districts from imposing such policies.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran found the districts to be in violation of DeSantis' executive order and a corresponding Department of Health Rule which says parents have sole authority in deciding whether students wear face coverings. In Leon County, students in grades Pre-k through 8th are required to wear masks unless they have a medical excuse.

The state has given the districts 48 hours to drop their mask mandates or the fines will go into effect. Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna asked the State Board of Education to dock his salary, too.

“As the only elected Superintendent in this action, My salary should be taken along with the other elected officials," Hanna said.

The board, acting on a request from Corcoran to keep the current punishments in place, denied Hanna’s request. The newly-fined could lose state funding equal to 1/12th of their school board member salaries and more—if the federal government gives them grants to backfill the loss. Alachua and Broward County Schools are receiving $147,000 and $420,000 respectively.

Corcoran blasted the federal government's actions, calling it a breach of state's rights.

"By their own terms, these grants encourage school districts to violate Florida law," the commissioner said. "Floridians should be offended by the Biden administration's use of federal taxes in an attempt to make the enforcement of Florida's laws so ineffective."

The board opted to withhold additional funding from those two districts in an amount equal to their grants and will withhold
more if other districts receive the federal money.

The new penalties bring the number of districts out of compliance with state policy up to 10. Six of those districts, Leon, Broward, Miami-Dade, Alachua, Orange, and Duval—are suing the state again over its mask mandate ban.