Carlee Simon, the superintendent of Alachua County schools, tells the governor of Florida that she will not comply with his dictates. From the Washington Post.
As superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools in North Central Florida, I am committed to providing a high-quality education while protecting the health and well-being of nearly 35,000 students and staff members. That’s proved to be an enormous challenge in my state.
Just a few weeks ago, my district was planning for a more “normal” school year free from many of the safety restrictions of the past year. But a surge in covid-19 cases has upended those plans, at least temporarily. And unfortunately, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) refuses to take the steps necessary to address the surge. Even worse, he’s preventing local leaders from doing what they can to protect their own communities.
The governor recently threatened to withhold funds from school districts that implement certain safety measures, particularly masking. But we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the current crisis to score political points.
My district is experiencing a dramatic spike in the number of employees testing positive for covid-19, and school hasn’t even started. We’ve had more cases reported in the past two weeks than in the previous five months combined. Tragically, two of our employees died from covid-related complications just over a week ago. Many others are quarantined and unable to work, and the numbers keep rising. If these trends continue, we may not have the workforce we need to operate our schools safely.
I’ve already implemented a mandatory mask policy for all employees and visitors. We’re also actively promoting vaccinations. Our district is offering a $100 vaccination incentive to all employees, and we will cover their leave time if they get a breakthrough case of covid-19. We’re also scheduling more in-school vaccination clinics for students and staff.
Unfortunately, those steps will not be enough to avert a community-wide health-care crisis. During a lengthy school board meeting last week, many local doctors and health-care professionals shared alarming news about the spread of the virus in our county, which is under a state of emergency. They talked about record-breaking case numbers and hospitalizations, even among previously healthy children. They told us about intensive care units at or over capacity, emergency response teams stretched thin and medical procedures delayed.
In light of this sobering reality, the board voted unanimously and courageously to require masks for all students during the first two weeks of school, a necessary step to start the academic year safely. We’ll reassess the situation before deciding on our next step.
The board’s vote has touched off a whirlwind. While hundreds of parents, students and others have thanked us for prioritizing safety, we’ve faced the inevitable backlash from those who oppose mask requirements and reject the severity and even the existence of covid-19. I’ve been called a monster, child-abuser, communist, fascist, idiot and other names not fit to print. I’ve been threatened with legal action, protests, militia “enforcement” and worse.
Those parents who oppose our mask requirement do have another option. The state is now offering a voucher called a Hope Scholarship to families who want to enroll their child in a private school or a public school in a district that doesn’t require masks. The scholarship gives families the ability to “opt-out” of masking while still allowing us to provide as safe an environment as possible.
Certainly we’re concerned about the threat of lost funding, but it shouldn’t come to that. After all, we want what DeSantis wants: to keep schools open and our kids in the classroom. The past year has proved that in-person learning is best for the vast majority of students. Through universal masking we can limit the number of students and teachers out sick or in quarantine, which means more instructional time and better educational outcomes.
More importantly, universal masking will promote the health and safety of those inside and outside our school walls.
The Florida Constitution says the state has a “paramount duty” to provide safe and high-quality public schools. It’s one of the highest constitutional standards for public education in the nation. We hope and expect that our state leaders will live up to that duty.
I will certainly do my part. I value life too much to take chances with the lives of others, even under the threat of retaliation. As our school board chair has so aptly put it, better a loss of funding than a loss of lives.
Not only is DeSantis threatening to withhold state funding to districts who refuse to endanger their students, he is threatening to withhold pay from the superintendents who defy him.
TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – The Office of Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the Florida Board of Education could withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who defy the governor’s executive order prohibiting mask mandates.
Here is the statement released to CBS4:
“With respect to enforcing any financial consequences for noncompliance of state law regarding these rules and ultimately the rights of parents to make decisions about their children’s education and health care decisions, it would be the goal of the State Board of Education to narrowly tailor any financial consequences to the offense committed. For example, the State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law.
“Education funding is intended to benefit students first and foremost, not systems. The Governor’s priorities are protecting parents’ rights and ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality education that meets their unique needs.”
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who runs the fourth largest school district in the nation, released a statement in response. It reads, in full:
“We have established a process that requires consultation with experts in the areas of public health and medicine. We will follow this process, which has served us well, and then make a final decision. At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck; a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees.
“I want to thank the Governor for recognizing that students should not be penalized.”
I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that the last threat about paying superintendents is bullshit. It’s a violation of federal law to withhold pay without due process, and if I know Alberto Carvalho (full disclosure: I do), he’ll stand up against this threat to the full extent of the law and more than likely join the inevitable lawsuit.
Political hyperbole often goes to extremes by saying that their opponents are a danger to America. In this case, it’s not hyperbole. Ron DeSantis is literally endangering the lives of the people of Florida.