The Biden administration offered financial assistance to school board members in Florida as they battle with Gov. Ron DeSantis over mask requirements in schools.
DeSantis, a Republican, signed an order just weeks before school was set to be back in session that prohibited Florida schools from requiring students to where face masks and threatened to withhold state funding from schools that didn’t comply.
This week, after some schools chose to keep a mask mandate in defiance of the governor’s order, DeSantis threatened to withhold the paychecks of school superintendents and school board members enforcing mandates.
In a letter sent Friday to DeSantis and Florida’s commissioner of education, the US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the Biden administration supports the school leaders’ efforts.
“The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction,” Cardona wrote.
He also said that any schools whose state funding is withheld can use pandemic-related federal relief funds to pay school officials’ salaries.
“In other words, any threat by Florida to withhold salaries from superintendents and school board members who are working to protect students and educators (or to levy other financial penalties) can be addressed” with federal relief funds “at the sole and complete discretion of Florida school districts,” he wrote.
He said that if the Florida Department of Education does not work with the Biden administration on COVID-19 precautions, then the federal government “will continue to work directly with the school districts and educators that serve Florida’s students.”
In a statement provided to Politico in response to the letter, a spokesperson for DeSantis said the White House wanted to spend money “on the salaries of superintendents and elected politicians, who don’t believe that parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children, than on Florida’s students, which is what these funds should be used for.”
The battle over masks mandates is playing out as Florida experiences one of the worst COVID-19 surges in the US. The state is consistently clocking record daily case counts and increasing hospitalizations.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday called out GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida for his handling of COVID-19 in the Sunshine State, saying that he “does not seem to want to participate” in the fight against the virus.
DeSantis, a former congressman and potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, has pursued COVID-19 policies that have endeared him to conservatives, opening up the Florida economy earlier than many other states last year, reopening schools when many districts around the country opted for full remote learning, and rejecting any sort of lockdown that could possibly come from the Democratic-led Biden administration.
In recent weeks, DeSantis has clashed with the Biden White House.
Earlier this month, Biden called out Florida and Texas for not doing enough to combat the elevated wave of infections caused by the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
“Some governors aren’t willing to do the right things to make this happen,” Biden said at the time. “I say to these governors, please help. If you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way of the people who are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”
When asked about DeSantis and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas that day, the president said that “their decisions are not good for their constituents.”
“As a father, I quite frankly think it’s unconscionable,” Adams said. “You can’t tie the hands of school and public health officials based on what you perceive to be the reality, when your public health officials are telling you they need these tools.”
Just days before most Floridian kids head back to the classroom, a battle is brewing between an unyielding Governor Ron DeSantis and a growing number of defiant educators over the Republican governor’s ban on mask mandates in schools.
Less than 24 hours after DeSantis threatened to withhold paychecks from school officials who flout his new law, educators and school board members across the state on Tuesday declared an intent to defy the July 31 executive order and keep stricter COVID-19 measures in place as kids return to school amid an alarming rise of cases in Florida.
“Standing up for our students and our families is part of our job,” board member Nora Rupert said. “Being afraid that we’re going to lose our job – be removed from office, fined, lose our salary – bring it. Bring it. Because when you put that out there it makes me work harder for our school children and our families.”
The board’s decision marks the most brazen move yet by school officials in the war over mask mandates and means Broward schools will be breaking the governor’s emergency law by refusing parents the option to opt their child out of masking.
Leon County, which previously said its schools would disregard DeSantis’ executive order and require masks, walked the requirement back on Tuesday evening after DeSantis’ threats, offering parents the opportunity to opt their children out, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
DeSantis, for his part, has painted his opposition toward school mask mandates as a fight for parent rights, and despite the growing resistance, said on Tuesday that he would not back down.
“The Broward mask policy appears to be similar to that of Leon and Alachua, which is to say it violates the spirit of the Governor’s executive order to protect parents’ rights to choose what is best for their own children,” a spokesperson for DeSantis told Insider on Tuesday afternoon.
The governor’s office then pointed to letters Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent Monday to school leaders in Leon and Alachua counties, threatening to withhold state funding equal to the salaries of the superintendents and school board members if they refused to follow the state order.
But despite the governor’s push for parent choice, there are options for parents who want to opt their kids out of a mask requirement, even in districts that have chosen to require them.
Florida is offering vouchers called “Hope Scholarships” to families who oppose mask mandates and instead want to enroll their child in a private school or public school that is not requiring masks. DeSantis has publicly touted the option in recent days.
Similarly, a spokesperson for Alachua County Public Schools told The Washington Post on Tuesday that a child can forgo a mask with a form signed by a qualified medical professional.
As DeSantis seemingly doubles down, the state continues to break COVID-19 case records. On August 9, Florida reported 27, 341 cases, 13,373 hospitalizations, and 122 deaths, according to The New York Times.
A Florida school board member told Gov. Ron DeSantis to “bring it” after he threatened to withhold the paychecks of school officials who set up mask mandates as the state deals with a record-breaking COVID-19 wave.
Eight of the nine members of the Broward County School Board voted to keep the school district’s mask mandate in place for students and staff despite Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to block schools from doing so. The board also decided to hire outside legal counsel to help challenge DeSantis’ executive orders, WSVN reported.
“Standing up for our students and our families is part of our job,” board member Nora Rupert said during the meeting Tuesday afternoon. “Being afraid that we’re going to lose our job – be removed from office, fined, lose our salary – bring it. Bring it. Because when you put that out there it makes me work harder for our school children and our families.”
“The Broward mask policy appears to be similar to that of Leon and Alachua, which is to say it violates the spirit of the Governor’s executive order to protect parents’ rights to choose what is best for their own children,” a spokesperson for DeSantis told Insider.
DeSantis’ office on Tuesday pointed toward letters Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent Monday to school leaders in Leon and Alachua counties, threatening to withhold state funding equal to the salaries of the superintendents and school board members if they refused to comply with the state order.
All nine of the board members at the meeting spoke out against DeSantis’ actions, according to Local10 reporter Hatzel Vela. One board member said DeSantis’ actions were “dictatorial,” Vela reported.
Demonstrators both in favor and against masking requirements clashed outside the school board meeting Tuesday, according to WSVN.
“Wearing masks inside schools regardless of vaccine status is required to deal with the changing realities of virus transmission. It is a necessary precaution until children under 12 can receive a COVID-19 vaccination and more Americans 12 and older get vaccinated,” Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said in a statement, according to Local10.
“We continue to be concerned about this variant, but our No. 1 priority remains a safe in-person school year in schools that can stay open,” she added.
On August 9, he released a statement to local CBS affiliate CBS Miami, saying that school board members and superintendents who defy his executive order will face “financial consequences.”
“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 read.
The statement added that 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.”
Miami-Dade public schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho responded to DeSantis in a separate statement to CBS Miami that the schools in his district – the fourth-largest in the US – will follow a “process” in consultation with public health experts to decide whether or not students should wear masks.
“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 this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees,” Carvalho said to CBS Miami.
Carvalho also tweeted on Monday night, saying: “Threat-laced humiliation has not served and will not serve humanity well.”
This is the latest salvo in DeSantis’ attack against requirements that children should wear masks in schools. In a tweet on July 29, the governor called “forcing kids to wear masks” a “bad policy” and said the decision on whether to have children wear masks or not should be left to parents.
However, DeSantis is in direct opposition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend that students and staff at K-12 schools wear masks in the classroom regardless of their vaccination status.
Some school districts – like one in Orange County, Florida – have chosen to defy DeSantis’ prohibition on mask mandates, asking students to wear face coverings for 30 days from August 10. According to The Hill, there have also been two legal challenges filed against DeSantis questioning the constitutionality of his executive order to prohibit true mask mandates in educational institutions.
This ongoing battle between DeSantis and mask mandates coincides with a troubling surge in COVID cases in Florida.
Florida has seen an uptick in infection rates, with a daily average of 19,250 cases as of August 8, and an 84% increase in COVID-19 infections over the last 14 days, per The New York Times COVID case tracker. Hospitals in Florida are also seeing an increase in the number of children being infected with the virus, per NPR.
Young children under 12 in the US are still unable to get vaccinated, but the FDA expects that authorization for a vaccine for this age group could come later this year, per NBC.
In times of crisis, foreigners are historically scapegoated by politicians, easy and convenient to blame for the problems that have been allowed to fester here at home – and unable, themselves, to vote the lawmaker out of office.
With Florida now accounting for nearly a quarter of all new COVID-19 cases in the United States, the Delta variant forcing Disney World to bring back mandatory masking, Gov. Ron DeSantis this month blamed the supposedly “open border” policies of President Joe Biden. “Whatever variants there are around the world,” he asserted, “they’re coming across that Southern border.”
It was a jarring performance from a Republican who has balked at basic public health measures, insisting on keeping indoor dining up and running – and maskless – throughout the various waves of the pandemic. He has also barred mask mandates for various local entities and prohibited vaccine passports. DeSantis has even boasted of his own open-border policy, welcoming visitors from across the country to his “oasis of freedom” from generally accepted public health decisions meant to curb our ongoing pandemic.
Viruses do not discriminate on the basis of nationality, but the same cannot be said for politicians.
And it’s not just one side of the aisle. Democrats are now in charge of border policy, and while it is not true that they are dealing with it in the exact same way as the Trump administration before it, in many respects that policy is one of continuity, not change: For most people, the US remains closed. And the trickle allowed in is certainly not responsible for more than 20,000 new cases a day in the Sunshine State.
Under a Trump policy called “Title 42,” a policy directive issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Biden administration has denied hundreds of thousands of people their internationally recognized right to seek asylum, immediately expelling them from the country instead. The policy, which effectively closes the border due to the pandemic “is not an immigration authority, but a public health authority,” according to the US Department of Homeland Security.
According to The Wall Street Journal, however, that’s not how people in government during the Trump years saw it. Last year, the paper reported, the exact same order “was met with deep resistance from senior officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was conceived not by public-health experts but by Stephen Miller,” the former president’s far-right immigration advisor. And it was opposed at the time by a slew of outside medical experts, who advocated testing and quarantining instead of a blanket prohibition.
The Biden administration has made exceptions to Title 42. Unaccompanied children are no longer subject to the policy. And many families who cross the Rio Grande have been able to stay to pursue their asylum claims – not because the administration would like them to, per se, but because state governments in Mexico are now refusing to accept their return.
There is no reason to believe a child is less likely to carry the virus than their mother or father or a single adult who crosses the border. It’s a matter of optics and liberal sensibilities. Sending kids back to be preyed upon south of the border is not a good look; there is far greater tolerance for being inhumane to a grown-up human being who may be fleeing the same violence and political repression, even if this too results in families being separated.
Under international law, this is problematic. Under the Refugee Convention, which the US committed itself to in 1951, signatories are obligated to consider all asylum claims – even in times of war or other “exceptional circumstances,” the treaty only allows certain exceptions, on a case-by-case basis, that still require an actual ruling on the asylum-seeker’s claim.
“The US has the right to confine asylum-seekers pending COVID testing results, a reasonable thing to do to protect the critical interests of Americans during a pandemic,” James Hathaway, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, told Insider. “But it is unlawful to respond with a blunderbuss-style general policy of closing borders to refugee claimants or refusing to process their claims in the usual way – which is what Title 42 does.”
The American Civil Liberties Union agrees: it’s suing to stop the order from being enforced.
“We gave the Biden administration more than enough time to fix any problems left behind by the Trump administration,” Lee Gelernt, an ACLU attorney, said in a statement, “but it has left us no choice but to return to court.”
Legality aside, some medical experts likewise see no more justification for Title 42, now, than when the Trump administration rolled it in March 2020.
“It does feel as if this ‘public health’ exclusion is a sort of pretext,” Jacqueline Bhabha, a professor and scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in an interview.
In part, because the asylum system was decimated by its predecessor, and already chronically underfunded, the administration has struggled to handle the influx of migrants that it has allowed. Children at one facility in Texas have complained of overcrowding and ensuing depression, while the testing and quarantining of families has been left to nonprofit groups that have struggled to ramp up their own capacity to help hundreds of new people each day.
Republicans have scored points off this “crisis at the border,” abandoning the discourse of personal freedom to advocate a heavy-handed response to the spread of the Delta variant: prohibiting the freedom of movement, if not for tourists – most, from around the globe, are welcome to visit Disney World – at least for those seeking refuge.
The logistical challenges facing the Biden administration are real, and not entirely its fault; even the litigious ACLU conceded that time was needed to address them. But the administration appears to have decided to hide behind fears of contagion to justify what is ultimately a public-relations decision: to not exacerbate what it sees as a losing battle over migration.
Pundits can debate whether that is smart politics. But it is not what the United States agreed to at the international level, nor is it internally consistent.
Think, after all, of the children: there is a pandemic, yes, but these kids have fled here for grave reasons – and this White House has determined that the obligation to not return them to danger can indeed be fulfilled while taking steps to mitigate the threat to public health.
It’s just unwilling, for now, to extend that logic to others.
The state of Florida plans to appeal a judge’s ruling allowing Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings to check the vaccination status of its passengers against a state law prohibiting companies from asking customers about whether they’ve been vaccinated, MarketWatch first reported.
Lawyers for the company also argued that the policy interrupted the flow of interstate and international commerce.
“We disagree with the judge’s legal reasoning and will be appealing to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals,” a spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told MarketWatch. “A prohibition on vaccine passports does not even implicate, let alone violate, anyone’s speech rights, and it furthers the substantial, local interest of preventing discrimination among customers based on private health information.”
Representatives for DeSantis did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment Monday.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
A federal judge ruled Sunday in favor of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH), allowing them to require passengers to show proof of vaccination in defiance of Florida’s vaccine passport ban.
US District Judge Kathleen Williams granted the cruise line a preliminary injunction, temporarily blocking enforcement of the ban, concluding NCLH would likely win in its argument that the ban infringes upon the company’s constitutional rights.
In the 59-page ruling, she said Florida failed “to provide a valid evidentiary, factual, or legal predicate” for the vaccine passport ban and that the law could negatively impact public health.
The ruling represents a major blow to Governor Ron DeSantis’ efforts to stop vaccine mandates in the state of Florida, which currently has one of the worst COVID-19 surges in the US.
The Republican first banned government agencies and businesses from requiring vaccine passports with an executive order in April, arguing the ban would protect the unvaccinated from discrimination. A month later, the legislature passed a bill that expanded on the order.
NCLH, a $10 billion company that owns Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, sued Florida’s top surgeon in July over the ban, arguing it prevented the company from protecting its employees and customers.
“We are pleased that Judge Williams saw the facts, the law and the science as we did and granted the Company’s motion for preliminary injunction allowing us to operate cruises from Florida with 100% vaccinated guests and crew,” Daniel S. Farkas, the company’s executive vice president, said in the statement.
The company said it’s planning for its first cruise in 15 months to set sail from Miami on August 15 with 100% vaccinated staff and passengers.
GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana on Sunday said that he disagrees with an order by Gov. Ron DeSantis that bans local school districts from implementing mask mandates.
During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Cassidy told host Dana Bash that his viewpoint differs than that of the Florida Republican, who is considered to be a potential 2024 presidential contender.
“I’m a conservative. I think you govern best when you govern closest to the people being governed,” he said. “And if a local community is having – their ICU is full, and the people at the local schools see that they’ve got to make sure they stay open, because otherwise children miss out for another year of school, and they put in policy, then the local officials should be listened to. That is a conservative principle.”
“I do disagree with Governor DeSantis,” he said. “The local officials should have control here. I don’t want top-down from Washington, DC. I don’t want top-down from a governor’s office. … If my hospitals are full, vaccination rate is low and infection rate is going crazy, local officials should be allowed to make those decisions.”
DeSantis and fellow Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas both recently signed orders that block mask mandates, which last week drew the ire of President Joe Biden.
“Some state officials are passing laws … that forbid people from doing the right thing,” Biden said about rules that bar Covid-19 restrictions. “I say to the governors, please help. If you’re not going to help, get out of the way of the people that are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”
The directives have frustrated some local officials who have sought to issue COVID-19 prevention measures for children returning to school from their summer vacations.
Last week, Orange County Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in Florida, issued a 30-day mask mandate for students when classes resume this week, but parents can opt their children out of the policy.
Students at public schools in Orange County, Florida, will be required to wear face coverings – unless their parent provides a note opting them out, the school district announced Friday.
In an email, Orange County Public Schools said masks would be required as of August 10 and last for 30 days, as reported by Lauren Seabrook of local ABC affiliate WFTV. The requirement affects more than 200,000 students.
The announcement acknowledged “parents who are passionate on both sides of this debate,” and said those who wished to exempt their children out of the requirement could do so with a one-sentence note.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has prohibited schools from issuing true mask mandates. Earlier this week, a group of parents sued the governor to overturn his executive order, local NBC affiliate WPLG reported.
Orange County’s decision comes just over a week after the mayor declared a state of emergency due to a rise in coronavirus cases and urged residents to mask up when indoors. The county is now reporting an average of 1,133 new cases a day, up 117% from two weeks ago.
“We will continue to monitor the situation with our local experts and make a determination about how to proceed before the 30 days have expired,” the email said.