Department of Education sends letters to Texas and Florida governors amid school mask mandate

In the new letters to the governors. Ron DeSantis, of Florida, and Greg Abbott, of Texas, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, stressed that their respective states’ school mask policies run counter to “science-based strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 “and harshly expressed the support of the Biden administration to the United States state. educators.

Cardona wrote to DeSantis that he is “deeply concerned” by the governor’s executive order issued last month to direct the health and education departments to leave it to parents to decide whether students wear masks. Cardona also pointed to the recent threat from the governor’s office that the state board of education could move to withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who ignore his executive order, which effectively bans mask mandates.

“The Department acknowledges that several school districts in your state have already adopted these policies in accordance with CDC guidelines for the reopening and operation of school facilities despite statewide bans. The Department is on the side of ‘those dedicated educators who work to reopen schools safely and maintain safe instruction in person,’ Cardona wrote in the letter, which was also addressed to Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran.

In Texas, Abbott bans mask warrants, but two judges have issued restraining orders temporarily blocking the execution of his order. Cardona sent a similar warning to Abbott and state Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who stressed that “Texas’ recent actions to prevent school districts from voluntarily adopting science-based strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that are aligned with the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) jeopardizes these goals and may violate a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators while they develop their safe return to the face-to-face instructional plans required by federal law. “
Cardona’s direct messages come when President Joe Biden and members of his administration have specifically addressed the governors of Florida and Texas to prevent mask and vaccine requirements, pointing to the extraordinary number of Covid cases and hospitalizations in their states.

CNN’s requests for comment from the offices of governors and state education commissioners were not immediately returned Friday.

The letters followed statements by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki earlier this week, who told reporters that the White House and the federal government continue to look for ways to support local school districts and to Florida educators “while they try to follow science, they do the right thing and save lives.”

Psaki later said that paying salaries could be a part of that and the Department of Education is studying options. Fund retention is not the intention, he said.

In Friday’s letter to DeSantis and Corcoran, Cardona noted how Florida school districts can use Covid federal aid funds for educators ’salaries, noting that“ any threat from Florida to withhold the salaries of superintendents and members of the school board working to protect students and educators (or to collect other financial penalties) may be directed using ESSER funds at the sole discretion of Florida school districts. ”

In a letter to the Florida Association of School Administrators on Friday, Cardona highlighted the administration’s support for state educators: “I want you to know that the U.S. Department of Education is on your side. “Your decisions are vital to reopening schools safely and keeping them safe in person, and they are certainly in the best interests of your students.”

The implementation of mask requirements in schools has become a topic of politicized debate in some states across the country. Since last week, at least seven states (Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah) have banned districts that require masks from schools, although efforts are being made to backtrack on those bans.