Despite threats to board member salaries, Brevard Public Schools stick to hiding mandate
BREVARD COUNTY, Florida – Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has demanded that Brevard Public Schools remove their in-class face mask mandate by Wednesday morning or that the Florida Department of Education withhold salaries from school board members.
Despite the threat, the Brevard school board refused to back down, telling Corcoran in a five-page letter on Wednesday that it would uphold the board’s recent decision to require face coverings in Brevard public schools for 30 days in due to the skyrocketing COVID-19 infections affecting both students and staff.
Corcoran sent council a letter last Friday saying it is opening an investigation into the district’s failure to comply with the mask ban rule issued by Governor Ron DeSantis over the summer, and that the district should respond by 10 a.m. Wednesday with written documentation on how he complies with policy or risks losing his wages.
“At this time, the state cannot take action against the board as stated in Richard Corcoran’s letter,” said school board chairperson Misty Belford. “It’s a legal dance, there is going to be a lot of back and forth, but for now, the stay has been lifted.”
A DeSantis executive order prohibited school districts from imposing mask warrants on students unless parents could opt out. After a Florida judge overturned the order, Brevard joined several Florida counties in defiance of the governor, forcing students to wear masks for the next 30 days unless their parents obtained a medical exemption. The board voted 3-2 in favor of the policy in an emergency meeting on August 30.
Corcoran said in his letter that an automatic stay of the judges’ decision has allowed the Education Department to resume enforcement of its rule against mask warrants.
“Parents have the fundamental right to direct the education, upbringing and care of their minor children,” Corcoran wrote. “The Ministry of Education will protect this right. “
But Corcoran and DeSantis’ efforts to bring rebel school districts to court met another legal hurdle on Wednesday, when a Florida judge ruled the stay was no longer valid and the governor’s ban on Mask warrants in schools would not remain in effect during the ongoing legal battle. .
Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper approved a request by parents to allow the continuation of mask warrants in public schools, canceling the emergency stay. Cooper said it was an unusual move, but it was justified because allowing the state to enforce its ban on mask warrants could pose health risks to schools.
Even before the ruling was handed down, Brevard showed no intention to bow to the salary threats from the Department of Education.
In a five-page letter, School Board President Misty Belford and General Counsel Paul Gibbs told Corcoran that the mask’s mandate was necessary to fulfill the district’s responsibilities under Florida and U.S. law. Florida Constitution, as well as to allow schools to continue to operate in person. during the pandemic by disrupting student learning as little as possible.
“Given the grim landscape of the dazzling cases described above, the Board of Directors feels a moral and legal obligation to deploy any available mitigation measures that may slow the effect of the deadly Covid-19 virus on our staff. and our students and reduce global quarantines to maintain continuity of education, ”the letter said.
Community groups for and against the mask’s mandate are still likely to have a strong presence at the meeting. Leaflets circulated on Facebook on Monday with details of a planned demonstration to burn masks, and members of the pro-mask group Families for Safe Schools discussed talking points for the public comments section of the meeting. The August 30 meeting attracted approximately 140 speakers.
Florida has previously withheld the salaries of school board members in Alachua and Broward counties. These two were the first in the state to institute mask warrants this year.
On August 27, Judge John Cooper ruled in favor of the parents who sued DeSantis, ruling that the governor did not have the legal authority to ban the warrants. He said the mask warrants are “reasonable and consistent with this country’s best scientific and medical opinion.”
Parents argued that DeSantis’ executive order violated a constitutional requirement that the state provide safe schools for children, while DeSantis said parents should have the right to decide whether their children should wear them.
As of Tuesday, the BPS had announced more than 4,000 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff and more than 21,000 quarantines since August 2.
Bailey Gallion is the educational journalist for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallion at 321-242-3786 or [email protected].