Gov. Ron DeSantis made clear that he is not in support of the proposal put forth by Rep. Randy Fine that would financially punish the 12 school districts that enforced a mask mandate for schoolchildren in spite of an executive order signed into law that prohibited the action.
The 12 districts — Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Indian River, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Sarasota, and Volusia Counties — implemented mask mandates to begin the 2020-21 academic school year despite the ire of lawmakers who passed legislation to prevent them from being enacted. Fine, who chairs the Pre-K to 12th Grade Appropriations subcommittee, proposed taking $200 million from the salaries of over a thousand district officials, including grant directors, budget managers, and financial analysts who eclipse $100,000 annually.
“They didn’t defy the mask ban, they broke the law. They acted in an illegal way and they engaged in the second-largest state-sponsored act of child abuse in the history of Florida,” the representative said. “Decisions have consequences we in the legislature have the obligation to hold school districts accountable that refuse to follow the laws that we’ve passed”
DeSantis, however, elected to rally behind the active lawsuits in place against the districts.
“My view would be let’s not do that. But what you could do is say any parent whose kid was illegally force-masked this year in Florida in any of those districts, should have the right to sue if their kids have any negative effects of it, if they have speech problems, if they have emotional problems, physical problems,” DeSantis responded when asked on his stance. “They flouted the law and they should be liable for the consequences of their actions.”
Last August, Gov. DeSantis threatened to withhold salaries from school district board members that followed through with their threat to impose masking on school children, which he ultimately followed through on in Alachua and Broward Counties. The Biden administration ultimately swooped in and granted officials the amount of their salary that was withheld in federal dollars.
“I don’t think it’s punitive. I think it’s holding people accountable, and I think it is saying that we expect the laws that we pass to be followed by all of our school districts,” Fine said of his proposal.
Democrats were quick to oppose the proposal, staying consistent with their legislative efforts to keep mask mandates in place.
“It is unfortunate and disingenuous to punish school districts for attempting to stay above politics and keep children safe,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskel, echoing similar sentiments from across her party.
Though Fine verbally levied the measure against the districts, no formal legislation was composed. At this time, there is no indication that a companion proposal is to be drafted in the Senate, where if one is written, it would likely face a similar fate.