DeSantis threatens to withhold salaries of education officials as counties find mask workarounds

On August 31, 2020, students at Hillsborough High School waited in line to be temperature checked before they entered the building in Tampa, Florida. Octavio Jones/Getty Images DeSantis threatens withholding salaries of education officials, as counties look for mask workaroundsTALLAHASSEE - At least two Florida school districts are asking students to seek permission from a doctor before they can remove their masks for the fall. These policies violate rules set by DeSantis to prevent mandatory face coverings on K-12 campuses.Leon and Alachua counties require a doctor's endorsement for students wearing maskless. This is in direct contravention to many districts who are trying to comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis wants parents to have the final choice. Both counties are at risk of losing funding, namely for adopting stricter rules than those recommended by state agencies. This is a sign of the latest policy scrap around masks.If things go sour and we lose a child due to the virus, I cannot blame Rocky Hanna, superintendent at Leon County Schools.He said that if there is an out and I don't take it, or I didnt do the best thing for the children in Leon County and Tallahassee, then that's on me.Parents must have the option to opt out of any local rules that require students to wear masks. This is required by emergency rules issued Friday by Florida's Department of Health. Many school districts are now reconsidering making students wear masks, but Leon and Alachua counties remain the most vocal in their opposition to mandatory masks.Hanna announced Monday that all students in Leon County will need to wear masks when they start classes on Wednesday. Alachua County school officials announced Friday night their opt-out policy. This requires the signature of either a licensed Florida physician or a licensed advanced nurse practitioner.According to Christina Pushaw, spokesperson for DeSantis, both the local rules and DeSantis's efforts to reduce district mask mandates conflict in both cases.Pushaw stated in a statement that all parents should have the right to decide whether or not to opt out of their child. It should not be tied to their ability to obtain a doctor's note. These policies are against the spirit of (executive order).A number of state leaders, including a member of the Board of Education, warned that schools who don't comply with making masks optional precautionary in 2021-22 will be subject to withholding funds. Parents and Democrats have criticized Florida's student mask polices, with at least two legal challenges underway.State Senate Democrats led by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, sent Monday a letter to 300 school board members and to superintendents asking them to adopt mask policies to resist "unprecedented pressures to bow to Governors wishes."Hanna said that it was very concerning that schools might lose funding. This would ultimately be detrimental to students.The DeSantis administration however made it clear Monday that it was not the schools that were in financial trouble, but the local school board members or superintendents.Pushaw stated that the State Board of Education could withhold the salaries of the superintendent of schools or members of school boards. This would be a specific way to deal with the decision-makers responsible for the violation of law.As part of his opposition to tightening Covid-19 regulations in the face the Delta variant that is sweeping the state, DeSantis strongly opposed blanket mask policies. DeSantis is being criticized by President Joe Biden, Democrats, and health care professionals for downplaying its severity and preventing cities from passing public health mandates.Florida had 13,596 Covid-19 cases among children aged 12 and under during the week from July 30 to Aug. 1. This equates to a 20.5 percent positive rate for this age group. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state had 23,903 new Covid-19 patients on Saturday and 13,435 hospitalizations.The DeSantis administration insists that masks don't make enough of a difference for school-aged children in order to be required locally or statewide. According to the Florida Department of Health, there were eight children who died during the pandemic.The DeSantis administration took action against mask mandates and also created a new rule for students to protect them from Covid-19 harassment. This term was coined in order to provide parents with another avenue to avoid mask rules.This allows parents to transfer their children to private schools or other school districts under the Hope Scholarship voucher program. This type of award is usually reserved for students who have been victims of bullying or violence at school.