Biden admin targets DeSantis ban on mask mandates, offers cash to Florida school districts defying governor

DeSantis has said parents should decide whether their children wear masks in school and banned school mask mandates in an executive order

The Biden administration this week offered federal financial support to Florida school districts defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates as the coronavirus surges in the state, according to reports.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote in a letter to DeSantis and state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on Friday that defiant districts that lose state funding would have federal funds available to them, according to Politico.

“Florida’s recent actions to block school districts from voluntarily adopting science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 that are aligned with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts students and staff at risk,” Cardona wrote in the letter, adding he was “deeply concerned” by DeSantis’ July 30 anti-mask mandate executive order.

Cardona said the districts were in line with guidance from the CDC, which earlier this month recommended universal mask-wearing in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, to slow the spread of the delta variant.

“We are eager to partner with [the Florida Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators,” he added. “If FLDOE does not wish to pursue such an approach, the Department will continue to work directly with the school districts and educators that serve Florida’s students.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions related to school openings and the wearing of masks in Surfside, Florida, Aug. 10, 2021. (Associated Press)

The letters mark the sharpest-yet pushback by the Biden administration to the state policies and come days after the president indicated he did not believe he had direct authority to overturn the governors’ actions.

Cardona sent a similar letter to Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas over his ban on mask mandates.