August 15, 2021

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made it clear that, when it comes to COVID-19, he has one priority: Punishing anyone who gets in the way of spreading the virus. In particular, DeSantis has focused on making sure that school children and teachers are as exposed as possible by both mandating that schools have to hold in-person classes and declaring that schools cannot implement either mask mandates or vaccine requirements. In order to drive home his pro-virus policies home, DeSantis has threatened both the funding for school districts and the pay checks of school board members or school administrators who vote to protect their students.

These actions had already earned DeSantis some direct criticism from President Joe Biden. As WTSP in Tampa reported earlier this week, Biden said, “...It's clear to me and to most of the medical experts that the decisions being made – like not allowing mask mandates in school and the like – are bad health policy.” In response, DeSantis sneered about “media hysteria” and said that Biden was “obsessed with Florida.” Then DeSantis went right on threatening school districts and making it clear he was serious when it came to punishments.

The results of DeSantis’ persecution is situations like that reported by the St. Pete Catalyst, where the Pinellas County school board voted not to have a mask mandate despite 204 confirmed cases in the first two days of school. At that school board meeting, the district pointed directly to DeSantis’ orders, saying that it can’t require either staff or students to wear a mask.

But on Friday evening, Biden fired back in a way that shows serious support for districts already defying DeSantis, and could provide a much needed backbone injection for those afraid of the governor’s efforts to defund the schools. A letter from Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, sent directly to DeSantis, makes it clear: If he tries to cut funds to schools that institute mask mandates, Biden will send them federal funds.

Saying that “safe return to in-person instruction requires that school districts be able to protect the health and safety of students and educators,” the letter from Sec. Cardona expresses that he is “deeply concerned about Florida’s July 30 Executive Order prohibiting school districts from adopting universal masking policies.”

In recognizing the threat to both students and teachers, and the way that some school districts have put themselves on the line by defying DeSantis, Cardona puts this sentence in bold:

The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction.

Then Cardona notes that the American Rescue Plan Act that Biden ushered through in the first month of his administration includes over $7 billion in funds for education in Florida, as well as the authority to address issues concerning the ability of schools to operate safely during the pandemic. That means, writes Cardona, that he is prepared to “pay the full salaries of educators (including superintendents) and school board members, regardless of whether the state moves to withhold some of their salary ...”

Cardona goes on to note that the ARP required Florida to make funds available to school districts by May 24. It didn’t. In fact, DeSantis and the Florida Dept. of Education decided to starve schools of funding to help keep them on a short leash when it came to following DeSantis unreasonable and deadly rules. So, if any school district wants to use those funds, Cardona will see that they go straight to the schools, not the state.

In the immortal words of every man, woman, and unvaccinated child who just dropped a mic … Boom.

Published with permission from Daily Kos.

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