White House Reacts to Battle Over School Mask Mandates in Florida

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As students return to Florida classrooms this week, the battle over mask mandates continues to escalate — now drawing input from the White House.

The Biden administration said Tuesday that school districts across the country should follow federal guidelines for universal masking in schools, even if that means defying governors who have prohibited local mask rules.

“If you’re not interested in following the public health guidelines to protect the lives of people in your state, to give parents some comfort as they’re sending their kids to school…then get out of the way, and let public officials and local officials do their job to keep students safe,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a news briefing.

“This is serious,” she added. “We’re talking about people’s lives.”

Psaki praised school leaders in Florida for their “courage” and “boldness” for defying Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates. She added that the White House is “continuing to look for ways” to protect Florida school districts as they try to “do the right thing” during the pandemic.

This week, DeSantis threatened to cut the pay of superintendents and school board members who defy his mask ban, but school leaders in several areas — including Gainesville, Miami, and Tallahassee — have said they’ll require masks regardless of the personal financial impact.

On Tuesday, the Broward County School Board voted to require face coverings for the school year, according to the Miami Herald. The district, which is the sixth-largest in the nation and the second-largest in Florida, covers cities north of Miami, including Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, and Pompano Beach.

Also on Tuesday, the Florida Department of Education sent Broward Schools a letter that said the state had launched an “investigation of non-compliance,” the Miami Herald reported. The district’s mask rules are “inconsistent” with the governor’s orders, the letter said, and could result in the education department withholding the salaries of the superintendent and school board members.

“I have a moral responsibility to be my brother and sister’s keepers, even if it means that my salary is taken away,” Rosalind Osgood, the school board chair, told the newspaper.

“Even if it means I’m no longer in this seat, my conscience will be at peace because I can sleep at night knowing that I didn’t put parochial self-interest before people,” she said.

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