BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — The Florida Department of Education issued a letter to Brevard Public Schools, stressing that it must comply with the state order that parents be allowed to opt their children out of wearing a mask.

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“Recent reports in the media indicate that the Brevard County School Board has taken action inconsistent with the emergency rule by limiting or conditioning the parental ability to opt out of a face covering or mask mandate,” wrote Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran in a letter dated Sept. 3.

The letter was addressed to Brevard Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Mark Mullins and School Board Chairwoman Misty Belford.

The emergency rule that Corcoran was referencing is the one issued by the state’s health department on Aug. 6, which requires that any school district mask mandate policy must allow a parent to opt his or her student out of wearing a face covering.

However, like many other Florida school districts after Judge John Cooper of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit ruled that the state cannot stop schools from issuing mask mandates, Brevard County school board approved a 30-day mandatory mask order and the only way a parent can opt-out of it is with a doctor’s note.

The Brevard County school district had until 10 a.m., Wednesday, to reverse its mandatory mask decision, wrote Corcoran.

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

Last month, Cooper granted a permanent injunction that prevented the state from “taking any action to effect a blanket ban on face mask mandates with no parent opt-out by local school boards,” the appeal resulted in an automatic stay of the judge's decision.

At issue is Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ability to ban mask mandates in schools that do not allow parents to opt-out, which he did via an executive order in July. Since then, numerous school districts have enacted mask mandates in schools despite threats from the state of withholding school board members' pay.

Despite Cooper's Aug. 27 decision that blanket bans violate the Parents' Bill of Rights, the Florida Department of Education has already started to withhold monthly school board salaries in Alachua and Broward counties, and announced investigations into multiple others, including Hillsborough and Orange County schools.

However, after the order was officially filed, it was then stayed by DeSantis' appeal.

Corcoran mentioned the stay in his letter to the school board and wrote, "This means the Department of Education may resume enforcement of the Florida Department of Health's emergency rule. In the event the stay is lifted, then enforcement action will be automatically tolled."

The parents of Florida students who filed the lawsuit have filed an emergency motion to vacate the automatic stay and allow the injunction to go into effect. 

They argue that allowing the mask mandate ban to stand will cause irreparable damage to Florida students and school districts.

"If the automatic stay remains in place, Plaintiffs will continue to face the increased risk of the delta variant infection, local school boards will continue to face penalties from Defendants from their enforcement of the Executive Order, and local school boards will be faced with the choice of being subject to penalties issued by Defendants (for) protecting Plaintiffs, students, and school staff by having the ability to issue mandatory mask mandates without parental opt-out," the emergency motion said. 


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