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Miami, Tampa school boards impose mask mandates, in defiance of state law

The school boards are now being threatened by the state for violating state law

Updated: August 20, 2021 - 8:28am

The Florida board of education threatened this week to penalize local school board members and officials in Broward and Alachua counties following their decisions to require students to don face masks at school.

The threats, however, did not appear to deter the Miami-Dade schools district, or the Hillsborough County district, which includes Tampa and Palm Beach County, from mandating similar masking rules this week.

"Over the week, I've spoken with employees and their relatives, begging me to do the right thing," said Miami-Dade public school Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Earlier this month, GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Florida school districts to give parents the power to opt out of masking requirements for their children. He is also making available private school voucher applications for parents whose children feel "bullied" or otherwise victimized by mask mandates.

The Hillsborough County Public School board had an emotional meeting Wednesday, during which it was decided, by a vote of 5-2, that mask opt-outs would be limited to students with medical exemptions.

The meeting featured masked parents, some of them evidently health care workers, arguing with unmasked parents, some of whom wore "Freedom Fighter" T-shirts.

The Miami-Dade and Hillsborough districts are both arguing that their mandates comply with state health regulations and DeSantis's order. But the state board of education does not see it that way.

Earlier this week, the board instructed the Florida commissioner of education to investigate and potentially punish the districts by suspending or removing defiant school board members, withholding their salaries, or withholding funds from the districts.

The Biden administration has said it will step in to assist the districts financially if the state imposes such punishments. 

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