This week the Alachua and Broward County school boards became the first in the state to have wages garnished for implementing mask mandates, but they likely will not be the last.
Despite a court ruling against the state’s ban on universal face coverings, the Florida Department of Education (DOE) is following through on its threat to garnish wages for the growing list of schools defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order giving parents the last word on mask wearing.
DeSantis defended the state’s position during a Tuesday press conference, when a reporter asked if he planned to dock the salaries of Orange County school board members after they adopted the same mask requirement as Alachua and Broward counties.
“Whatever the DOE has done for other districts that aren’t following the law, they will probably follow through,” DeSantis said.
The state gave Orange County Public Schools a 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline to respond to the demand for compliance by the FDOE—in the same way it gave Alachua County a deadline in an Aug. 20 letter.
Last Friday Judge John C. Cooper of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County issued a verbal ruling that prohibited enforcement of the governor’s executive order that bars local school boards from adopting face mask mandates without a parental opt-out provision. But DeSantis said until the court produces a written opinion, the FDOE is moving ahead to punish any elected officials who “violated the law.”
“Nobody has ruled against anything,” DeSantis said, adding that the state will “appeal right away” when the written ruling is delivered.
“Here we are days later and we still don’t have it,” DeSantis said. “Part of the reason is it’s not an easy opinion to write from a legal perspective, and it’s going to be very vulnerable to being overruled.”
On Wednesday, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody gave DeSantis’ view legal backing. She issued a response to an inquiry from the Suwannee County School District about whether more districts could mandate face masks with only a doctor’s opt-out.
“The District must comply with applicable statutes and regulations unless and until the judiciary declares them invalid,” she wrote in an advisory legal opinion posted online.
According to Attorney Charles Gallagher of Gallagher & Associates Law Firm in St. Petersburg who headed up the case for parents throughout the state and won, the order has been drafted by and counsel for the defendants have weighed in.
Now, they wait for the, “judge to edit and/or sign.”
Last week a Quinnipiac poll found that 60 percent of Florida adults support requiring students, teachers and staff to wear masks. Fifty-four percent said schools should have the right to mandate mask use, while 44 percent said parents should have the final decision. Sixty-nine percent disapprove of garnishing the wages of school officials.