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Hillsborough, Orange, Sarasota Districts Under Investigation Over School Mask Mandates

FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, file photo, students sit in an algebra class at Barbara Coleman Senior High School on the first day of school in Miami Lakes, Fla. A judge has ruled that Florida school districts may impose mask mandates. Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper on Friday agreed with a group of parents who claimed in a lawsuit that Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on the mandates is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.
FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, file photo, students sit in an algebra class at Barbara Coleman Senior High School on the first day of school in Miami Lakes, Fla. A judge has ruled that Florida school districts may impose mask mandates. Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper on Friday agreed with a group of parents who claimed in a lawsuit that Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on the mandates is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says the districts are noncompliant with a state health department rule triggered by a governor's ban on local mandates, which a judge has ruled is unconstitutional.

The state Department of Education said Tuesday it was investigating the school districts of Hillsborough, Sarasota and Orange counties over mask mandates that do not allow for a parental exemption.

In a letter to district officials, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran wrote the districts were in violation of a state Department of Health emergency rule triggered by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order intended to block districts from enacting school mask mandates.

On Friday, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled the executive order was unconstitutional and cannot be enforced. However, DeSantis said an appeal is planned and his office has said it will continue to act in defense of parents’ rights until a signed judge’s order was issued.

Corcoran’s letters were sent Friday, and the three districts were given until 5 p.m. Wednesday to respond. If they remain noncompliant, they could face financial penalties. All three counties have mandates that allow exemptions only for medical reasons with a medical professional’s note.

On Aug. 20, Corcoran issued similar letters to the Alachua and Broward school districts. Both refused to change policies and were found to be noncompliant. Corcoran announced Monday that his department has withheld an amount equal to monthly school board member salaries in both counties.

Twelve school districts have enacted mask mandates with no parental opt-outs since DeSantis’ order was issued July 30.

Cooper issued an injunction barring Corcoran, the Department of Education and the Board of Education from enforcing the governor’s order. The health department was not a defendant in the lawsuit, and Cooper decided he could not strike down the health department rule that said any local school mask mandates must allow parents to opt out.

DeSantis has said he believes parents should make health decision for their children, and the Parents Bill of Rights is a new state law that served as a foundation for his executive order.

Meantime, the Hernando County School Board held an emergency meeting on Tuesday and decided to implement a mandatory mask mandate with a parental opt-out. The district previously only recommended that masks be worn in class.

Copyright 2021 Health News Florida

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