Florida Governor Threatens School Leaders' Pay Over Mask Mandates

Carolyn Crist

August 10, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to stop paying superintendents and school board members who reject his executive order banning mask mandates and instead require masks in schools this fall, according The Washington Post .

As students returned to classrooms in many Florida school districts on Monday, DeSantis said district officials who enforce COVID-19 protocols that require masks could face "financial consequences."

"For example, the State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law," the governor's office wrote in a statement sent to several news outlets.

"Education funding is intended to benefit students first and foremost, not systems," according to the statement. "The Governor's priorities are protecting parents' rights and ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality education that meets their unique needs."

On July 30, DeSantis issued an executive order that gives parents the right to decide whether their child will wear a mask in classrooms this fall. The order states that the CDC recommendations for universal masking in schools "lacks a well-grounded scientific justification."

Since then, several of Florida's largest school districts have challenged the order and voted to require masks, The Washington Post reported. Duval County in Jacksonville, Leon County in Tallahassee and Alachua County in Gainesville have decided to start the school year with masks, pointing to the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the Delta variant.

Some of the policies allow parents to opt out of the requirement, but at least two districts — Alachua and Leon counties — have said parents must submit a doctor's note explaining why their child shouldn't be required to wear a mask in school.

On Monday, Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna said the threat of financial retribution wouldn't prompt him to reconsider his decision to require masks for K-8 students. Hanna said he made the decision after taking to community members and Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.

"You can't put a price tag on someone's life, including my salary," Hanna told the Tallahassee Democrat.

"Heaven forbid we lost a child to this virus," he said. "I can't just blame the governor."

Also on Monday, Alachua County Superintendent Carlee Simon said the decision to require masks in classrooms for the first two weeks of school is "a necessary step to start the academic year safely."

"Certainly we're concerned about the threat of lost funding, but it shouldn't come to that. After all, we want what DeSantis wants: to keep schools open and our kids in the classroom," she wrote in a column for The Washington Post.

"I value life too much to take chances with the lives of others, even under the threat of retaliation," she wrote. "As our school board chair has so aptly put it, better a loss of funding than a loss of lives."

School officials in Miami-Dade County, which contains the fourth largest school district in the country, is seeking advice before deciding on a mask policy next week.

"We have established a process that requires consultation with experts in the areas of public health and medicine. We will follow this process, which has served us well, and then make a final decision," Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent for Miami-Dade Schools, told CBS Miami.

"At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck," he said. "A small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees."


The Washington Post: "Florida Gov. DeSantis threatens to hold school leaders' pay if they require masks: 'Financial consequences.'"

CBS Miami: "Gov. Ron DeSantis' Office: State Education Board Could Withhold Salaries Of Superintendents, School Board Members Who Implement Mask Mandates."

State of Florida: "Executive Order Number 21-175."

Tallahassee Democrat: "'Things went sideways': Leon Schools superintendent announces mask mandate for K-8 students."

The Washington Post: "Opinion: Why our school district is defying Florida's ban on mask mandates — even if it means we lose funding."

CBS Miami: "Gov. Ron DeSantis' Office: State Education Board Could Withhold Salaries Of Superintendents, School Board Members Who Implement Mask Mandates."