TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued a warning and announced an immediate investigation into Sarasota County and Hillsborough County Schools over their new mask mandates that eliminated a parental opt-out, except for medical exemptions.
“Recent reports in the media indicate that the Sarasota School Board has taken action inconsistent with the emergency rule by limiting or conditioning the parental ability to opt-out of a face covering or mask mandate,” Commissioner Corcoran said in his letter to the school districts.
Corcoran gave the school districts until 5 p.m. Wednesday to “provide a written response” to document how “your district is complying with the Florida Department of Health Rule 64DER21-12.” The commissioner said if the districts don’t “document full compliance” with the rule, he will recommend the State Board of Education, “withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for all the members of the School Board, as well as other sanctions authorized by law, until the district comes into compliance.”
The letters, dated August 27, were revealed just hours after the state withheld the pay of school board members in Broward and Alachua counties for instituting mask mandates that don’t contain a parental opt-out, except in documented medical cases. Broward and Alachua Counties were the first two counties in the state to enact such mandates in defiance of the state, which ordered parental opt-outs without conditions.
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Since Broward and Alachua made their moves on mask mandates, several additional counties including Hillsborough, Sarasota, Miami-Dade and others have enacted similar mandates that only allow documented medical opt-outs. While the schools push back, a separate legal fight over masks in schools has also played out.
Last Friday, Judge John Cooper issued an injunction limiting the state’s ability to enforce some of the rules related to mask mandates because the rules violated the Parent's Bill of Rights in the state. Governor Ron DeSantis, who has said the choice should be for the parents to make, said the state would appeal the decision and was confident a victory would come in the appellate courts.
Hillsborough school letter:
On Wednesday, Hillsborough County Schools responded to the letter:
Sarasota school letter: