WASHINGTON, D.C., (WFLA) — The White House announced Tuesday that it is planning to support schools who defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order and enact mask mandates for students.
Under current rules from the Florida Department of Education, Florida school districts can only enact mask mandates if they give parents an option for their children to opt-out, which keeps mask-wearing optional. DeSantis’ order states that if a district disobeys and forces mask-wearing at its schools, the FDOE could pull state funding to make them comply.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki praised school leaders, particularly those in Miami-Dade County, for their “courage and boldness” to keep measures in place protect their students and keep their schools open.
“We are continuing to look for ways … for the U.S. government to support districts and schools as they try to follow they try to follow the signs to do the right thing and save lives,” she said.
The announcement comes after Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced last week that she was working with the White House to find a way to support schools who challenged DeSantis’ order.
In response to the Psaki announcement, Fried voiced her support for the idea of using unspent COVID-19 relief money to fund schools.
“I’m so grateful to President Biden for responding to our appeal for supplemental funding for Florida schools and protecting the rights of our local school districts,” Fried said “My office and I have been working with the White House to find ways to support school districts that have had their funding threatened by our Governor’s unconstitutional effort to prohibit them from following public health guidelines. There is a large pot of money that was allocated to our state through the American Rescue Plan that has not yet been distributed, and we are working with the Biden Administration to see if this funding could be used to help schools and teachers who are standing up to do the right thing.”
Psaki also said the unspent American Rescue Plan funds meant to support schools through COVID-19 could be used to cover expenses. In total, Florida received $7,043,370,152 in American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
While she said Florida has not distributed the funds at all, the state has used $183.6 million to pay $1,000 bonuses for Florida teachers.
“They are under federal discretion so they just need to be distributed to the schools,” she said “We’re looking into what’s possible.”
Psaki finished by calling out DeSantis directly and saying he needs to let the decision made by local school officials.
“Get out of the way, and … let local officials do their job to keep students safe,” she said.