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State board sanctions Orange, Brevard and other school districts for mandatory mask policies

Brevard County School Board chair Misty Belford voted for the district's mandatory mask policy. Image: BCSB via YouTube
Brevard County School Board chair Misty Belford voted for the district's mandatory mask policy. Image: BCSB via YouTube

The Florida State Board of Education sanctioned the Orange and Brevard County school boards along with others Thursday for violating a state rule against requiring students to wear face masks.

They will be docked a month's worth of their school board salaries and whatever federal funds they receive to make up for that penalty.

School district representatives argued their mask policies are needed to keep kids safe and are legal under the Florida Constitution and Parents' Bill of Rights.

The Department of Health says that law requires a parental opt-out. Several districts have filed a petition challenging the legality of its rule.

Brevard County School Board chair Misty Belford described their crisis of soaring COVID-19 cases in August.

"In essence, we opened our schools attempting to follow your rules with catastrophic outcomes for our schools and our community," she told the Board of Education. "We had to take some additional action to avoid conflicts with our constitutional and statutory responsibilities and to assure the safety of our students and staff."

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Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said enforcement of the state order is "crucial to the rule of law" and that the federal government shouldn't be able to offset the fines.

"Floridians should be offended," he said, "by the Biden Administration's use of federal taxes in an attempt to make the enforcement of Florida's laws so ineffective."

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The state board approved his findings without discussion.

In an earlier press conference, Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried said that, though the state is withholding COVID-19 data, her department did a survey of publicly available school district information.

"We looked at the numbers several different ways," she said. "And in every single case, kids were better of in school districts that required masks. ..."

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Her analysis found they were three times less likely to contract the virus.


Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.