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First Coast

State cuts funding to Duval Schools over mask mandate

Lawsuit Payouts Florida
Mark Wallheiser/AP
FR171224 AP
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

Florida has decided to punish Duval Schools for making students wear masks to combat COVID-19.

The state Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s request to withhold state funding equal to School Board members' salaries — plus whatever amount the federal government contributes to make up for it.

The penalties apply to Duval County Public Schools and seven other districts. Two other districts with mask mandates — Broward and Alachua counties — have already received funding reductions.

The state board was expected to consider penalties against 11 eleven districts Thursday rather than eight, but Hillsborough, Sarasota and Indian River counties have eliminated their mask mandates.

Duval's policy requires students to wear masks unless they have a medical reason to op out.

Each district’s superintendent was given five minutes to respond to the commissioner’s threats during the meeting Thursday. Duval County Superintendent Diana Greene called the Department of Health’s rule invalid.

“Following this unlawful rule would have an adverse effect on the health of students and staff in our district,” Greene said.

She also cited slow contact tracing, high case rates and the deaths of 10 school district employees as evidence of the need for a mask mandate.

The seven-person state board voted unanimously approved the cuts for all eight districts immediately after her presentation. The will cost Duval roughly $22,000, equal to one month’s worth of School Board member salaries. The state board also authorized cutting state funds equal to any federal grants the district gets to make up for that loss.

The Biden administration has committed to reimburse school districts that are punished for having mask mandates. Corcoran called that move federal overreach.

“I strongly believe that this federal grant program improperly attempts to interfere with the state board’s authority to manage our state’s educational system,” Corcoran told the board.

The new funding cuts are in response to a Sept. 22 Department of Health rule requiring districts to give parents the final say on whether their students wear masks or quarantine after exposure to someone with COVID-19. Duval County and five other school districts filed a legal challenge against the rule Wednesday, claiming the Department of Health does not have the authority to issue rules about parent choice.