STATEWIDE — The Florida Department of Education has withheld monthly salaries of school board members in Alachua and Broward counties as punishment for mandatory mask policies that defy the governor’s order against them, the agency announced Monday.

What You Need To Know

  • State Dept. of Education says it has withheld monthly salaries of Alachua, Broward school boards 

  • School boards in those counties have mandated masks in defiance of ban from Gov. Ron DeSantis

  • Department's action comes despite a court ruling that said the state couldn't stop mask mandates

The move came despite a Friday court ruling that said the state could not stop school districts from issuing mask mandates.

“We’re going to fight to protect parent’s rights to make health care decisions for their children,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in a news release. “They know what is best for their children.

“What’s unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”

Before schools opened this month amid a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered that school districts could not require children to wear masks in schools.

DeSantis has maintained that school districts should leave it up to parents to decide whether their children wear masks in classrooms.

The Florida Department of Health later passed a rule that said districts that made such a requirement must give parents an ability to opt out of it.

School districts in Alachua and Broward counties defied DeSantis and the Department of Health, requiring all students to wear masks unless they could present medical reasons for not doing so.

Early this month, parents from several Florida school districts brought a lawsuit against DeSantis, Corcoran and others that challenged the mask-mandate ban.

In the meantime, Corcoran threatened school board members in Alachua and Broward counties that they could start losing their pay unless they reversed their policies.

Despite that, other districts including Hillsborough and Orange would join Alachua and Broward in defiance of the governor’s order.

Then on Friday, Judge John Cooper of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit said the ban on mask mandates violated the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which the governor used as his basis for banning such mandates.

Cooper said his ruling wouldn’t go into effect until he signed a written order, which wasn’t expected until at least early this week.

Also, DeSantis and the Department of Education said they would appeal the ruling to Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.

Department of Education spokesman Jared M. Ochs wrote in an email reply late Monday to Spectrum News: "Unlike several school districts in this state, our Department plans on continuing to follow the rule of law until such time as the Court issues its ruling, and subsequent to that ruling, we plan on immediately appealing this decision to the First DCA, from which we will seek to stay the ruling."

He added: "We actually began withholding these funds last Thursday, based on the already lawfully executed orders of the State Board of Education."

Earlier Monday, DeSantis expressed optimism about an appeal to the judge's ruling, saying; "If you look at the ruling, he’s basically saying that the Parents Bill of Rights violates the school boards, but in reality, the school boards weren’t even parties to the case. So I think we’re going to have really good grounds to appeal in terms of the First District Court of Appeal ... And so it’ll be appealed, we’ll end up getting it back, and I think at the end of the day, ultimately, we’re just trying to stand with the parents …"

The Department of Education added in its news release that Corcoran and the State Board of Education “retain the right and duty to impose additional sanctions and take additional enforcement action to bring each school district into compliance with state law and rule.”