Despite a judge ruling against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order banning school mask mandates without parent opt-outs, the state’s education commissioner has launched an investigation of at least three Florida school districts — Hillsborough, Orange and Sarasota.

What You Need To Know

“This letter is sent to express my grave concern regarding your district’s response to the recently Emergency Rule 64ER21-12 from the Florida Department of Health,” Commissioner Richard Corcoran wrote to Hillsborough, Orange and Sarasota school officials.

The nearly identical letters were sent separately — addressed to the superintendents and school board chairs of the respective districts — on Aug. 27.

According to Corcoran, the rule states, “Students may wear masks or facial coverings as a mitigation measure; however, the school must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out the student from wearing a face covering or mask.”

Hillsborough, Orange and Sarasota Schools have imposed temporary mask mandates that only allow students to opt out for documented medical issues.

Corcoran says the districts are defying the state.

“I am immediately initiating an investigation of non-compliance with the rule adopted by the Florida Department of Health on August 6, 2021 … I am demanding that you provide a written response by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 1, 2021, documenting how your district is complying.”

The letter continues with a threat to recommend that the State Board of Education withhold funds to the districts “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.

As for the timing of the letter and a judge ruling against the state's position on masks in schools, the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) says it still has the right to act.

"To date, a signed written order has not been issued. At this point, we will continue to act with urgency to protect the rights of parents and students," wrote Jared M. Ochs, FLDOE Director of Communications and External Affairs, in an email to Spectrum News.  "We will not let up, and we will not stop holding elected school board members who refuse to follow the law accountable."

Spectrum News reached out to the school districts, as well.

So far, Orange County Public Schools officials have not commented on the letter.

Hillsborough County officials said they were still looking it over.

“We received the letter on Friday. We are reviewing with counsel and will respond appropriately,” Hillsborough Schools Media Outreach Manager Erin Malone wrote in an emailed response to Spectrum News’s request for comment.

Sarasota Schools had a similar response.

“Our district received the letter on Friday last week. As far as I’m aware, our legal counsel is still working with the district on a response.”

You can read the letter to the Hillsborough Schools below. Again, the letters to Orange and Sarasota schools were nearly identical.

Education commissioner letter to Hillsborough Schools by Dale Greenstein on Scribd


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