Education Commissioner threatens to withhold Duval School Board salaries over mask mandate

Florida Times-Union | By Beth Reese Cravey | August 31, 2021

The state Education Commissioner has challenged the legality of Duval County Public Schools’ mask mandate, arguing that it violates parental rights to “direct … the education” of their children.

Starting Tuesday, the mandate requires students wear masks unless they have a doctor’s note. The controversial measure was designed to control COVID-19 on all Duval campuses, which on Monday reported almost 1,500 cases of the virus to date this school year.

But Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter to the Duval County School Board on Friday informing them that he had launched an “investigation of noncompliance” into the mandate.

The state Department of Health’s emergency rule on masking, he wrote, dictates that school districts must allow a student’s parent or legal guardian to opt them out of wearing a mask. The rule does not require medical documentation.

“Should you fail to document full compliance with this rule,” Corcoran wrote, “I intend to recommend to the state Board of Education that the department withhold funds in an amount equal to the amount of the salaries of all the members of the School Board, as well as other sanctions authorized by law, until the district comes into compliance.

“Parents have the fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education and care of their minor children,” he wrote. “The Department of Education will protect that right.”

The district has to respond by 5 p.m. Wednesday. Duval Schools Spokesman Tracy Pierce said the district “is in consultation with legal counsel who will respond on the district’s behalf.”

Duval is the latest school district to draw a challenge of its mask mandate. Corcoran already sent similar threats to the Alachua and Broward School Boards.

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