Is FL right to dock school salaries over requiring masks?


Fact Box

  • Ron DeSantis is Florida’s 46th governor. Before his election in 2018, he served in the US House representing Florida’s 6th Congressional District.
  • On Thursday, October 8, 2021, the Florida State Board of Education ruled to dock the salaries of school board members in eight counties for defying Gov. DeSantis’ ban on classroom mask mandates. 
  • On August 13, 2021, the Biden administration showed support for schools in Texas and Florida that deny the no-mask orders in schools. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote a letter to DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran offering to pay the salaries of threatened educators.
  • Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order 21-175 on July 30 2021, allowing parents to “choose whether their children wear masks” in schools. 
  • Schools districts in Arizona, Florida, and Texas have been defying their governors’ bans on mask mandates. Floridian superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, said, “At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck; a small price to pay considering the gravity of the issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees.”
  • Florida’s current population is 21.9 million. As of October 8, 2021, 12.3 (57.4%) of Florida’s population are fully vaccinated. Almost 187 million Americans are fully vaccinated, however, Johns Hopkins research shows COVID cases have been steadily rising despite over half the country being fully vaccinated.

Tyler (No) 

The State of Florida's decision to cut salaries from school districts opposing the state's lack of mask mandates is utterly irresponsible. This decision Florida has made goes against all national public health recommendations and likewise sacrifices the safety of local school children as well as might hinder them from being able to re-access in-person education. 

Docking school salaries can ultimately end up with the schools receiving less overall funding, impacting the children who have no say in this political game. Aside from the allocated funding required to educate children, schools also have to budget for extra costs attributed to handling and preventing the spread of the pandemic. A lack of preparation paired with a lack of safety guidelines (no masks) can result in a sudden spike of infected children.

The state is choosing not to listen to its employees, who advocate for a mask mandate at an overwhelmingly high rate. Florida suffers a daily average of 199 deaths attributed to COVID, second in the United States behind Texas. Staff members will be hesitant to return to work if the district does not have sufficient guidelines to protect their workers and students in place. 

The CDC still recommends indoor masks for teachers and students. Elementary school students will be below the eligible vaccination age, leaving masks and social distancing the most effective prevention methods. Since there is no danger in wearing a mask, the governor's decision appears to be more politically driven than scientifically informed.

Veronica (Yes)

Counties say they must break state law to protect students, but Florida only has 27 pediatric COVID-19 deaths this year, and their death-to-case rate is identical to California who has had more stringent measures in place throughout the pandemic. The seven-day average COVID-19 death rate (for all ages) is zero in every Florida county. A CDC study of Florida schools found less than 1% of students got COVID-19 at school, and transmission in schools is not more frequent than anywhere else

Miami-Dade County cites 13 recent employee deaths from COVID-19, but school mask mandates wouldn't have changed that. Most of the deaths occurred prior to the school year, only one individual had contact with students, and all of the deceased were unvaccinated. DeSantis's order doesn't prevent vaccinations or stop people from wearing masks. It simply says you cannot force someone to wear a mask. The district mask mandates are in direct violation of this; they are intentionally breaking state law. 

This decision was not made by DeSantis alone; the decision to withhold funds resulted from a unanimous vote by the Florida State Board of Education and is backed by other state officials. Importantly, teachers are not being fined; it is the school board members whose pay is docked. Astonishingly, these county school boards believe they have the authority to override state law and the state board of education. They also seem to think they know more about a child's health than the child's own parents or the state department of health. Superintendents and board members may not like the law, but that doesn't permit them to break it.

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