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Florida Education Commissioner wants to dock salaries of Duval County School Board members over mask mandate

Richard Corcoran is asking the state Board of Education to withhold board member salaries and block federal reimbursements over mask mandates

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The battle over mask mandates escalated this week as Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran urged the state Board of Education to withhold funding equal to a month's worth of Duval County School Board members' salaries, as well as any federal funds that might be used to offset that loss.

Corcoran's move comes after weeks of back and forth over Duval County Public Schools' face mask policy. 

In his letter, Corcoran writes, “I find there is probable cause that the Duval County School Board (DCSB) acted contrary to the law by requiring students to wear a mask or face covering …DCSB’s policy violated the provisions of Rule 64DER21-12 and continues to violate Rule 64DER21-15, Protocols for Controlling COVID-19 in School Settings.”

He continued, "I hereby recommend that the State Board of Education use its enforcement powers to enforce the health protocols found in Emergency Rule 64DER21-15 and protect the right of parents to make both health and educational decisions on behalf of their children. Should the State Board adopt my recommendation, I request that it consider the sanction of withholding state funds in an amount equal to 1/12 of all school board members’ salaries, as well as withholding state funds in an amount equal to any federal grant funds awarded to the DCSB for its noncompliance with Emergency Rule 64DER21-15."

In July, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts in Florida from requiring students to wear masks. 

RELATED: 'No lockdowns, no school closures': Gov. DeSantis to sign executive order setting rules on masks

However, after outcry from parents and doctors, the Duval County School Board passed a mandate requiring all students to wear a face mask unless they had a doctor's note. 

That decision was met with pushback from parents supporting the governor's executive order. Ultimately, several parents filed a lawsuit calling on the legal system to forcibly remove the mandate while the state opened an investigation into the matter.

On Monday, Corcoran sent a letter to the State Board of Education with his findings and recommendations from his investigation. His main recommendation was for the State Board of Education to withhold the district's funding equal to 1/12 of the salaries of the Duval County School Board. 

In addition, Corcoran also recommended the state withhold funding equal to the amount of any federal grants given to the district because of its non-compliance with the state's mask policy.

Corcoran's conclusion to his investigation reads: 

"Every school board member and every school superintendent has a duty to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not. While the district school board may not agree with the safety protocols set forth by the Surgeon General, the Surgeon General is the person who, under the law, sets protocols to control and mitigate COVID-19 in schools. The Office of the Attorney General relied upon these principles to reject any argument a school board could depart from FDOH’s emergency rule based upon a disagreement with the protocols found in the rule. See AGO 2021-01, September 1, 2021. Disagreement with the protocols found in 64DER21-15 simply does not provide a school district with a basis to violate the rule, be it through medical requirements, attempts to tie mask requirements to fluctuating positivity rates, or through any other means. 

"All of this in mind, I hereby recommend that the State Board of Education use its enforcement powers to enforce the health protocols found in Emergency Rule 64DER21-15 and protect the right of parents to make both health and educational decisions on behalf of their children.

"Should the State Board adopt my recommendation, I request that it consider the sanction of withholding state funds in an amount equal to 1/12 of all school board members’ salaries, as well as withholding state funds in an amount equal to any federal grant funds awarded to the DCSB for its noncompliance with Emergency Rule 64DER21-15."

RELATED: Duval County new mask policy begins Tuesday | Here's what you need to know

READ BELOW: Full Memo from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to members of the State Board of Education