White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has told Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to “get out of the way” if he doesn’t want to follow public health guidelines as the Republican threatens to withhold salaries of school board members and superintendents in districts that do not comply with his order outlawing mask mandates in schools.
When asked during a press briefing on Tuesday what the White House would say directly to Mr DeSantis about his threat to withhold salaries, Ms Psaki said: “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 ... local officials do their job to keep students safe.”
“This is serious,” she added. “We’re talking about people’s lives, and we know based on public health guidelines that even though kids under a certain age are not eligible [to be vaccinated] masks can have a huge impact.”
The governor’s office said on Monday that the state’s education board could move to withhold the salaries of those disregarding the ban.
Some school districts have said that masks will be required and several are considering mandates.
The office of Mr DeSantis issued an executive order last month that requires Florida’s health and education departments to enact rules giving parents the right to make health care decisions for their kids in school.
Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for the governor, tweeted on Monday: “Ultimately – education funding is for the students. The kids didn’t make the decision to encroach upon parents’ rights. So any financial penalties for breaking the rule would be targeted to those officials who made that decision.”
“I do want to call out the courage and the boldness ... [of] a number of leaders in Florida, including in Miami Dade County – people who are stepping up to do the right thing to protect students and keep schools safe and open,” Ms Psaki said on Tuesday.
“We’re continuing to look for ways ... for the US government to support districts and schools, as they tried to follow the science, do the right thing, and save lives,” she added.
“I would note what is publicly available and knowable – that the American Rescue Plan funds that were distributed to Florida to provide assistance to schools have not yet been distributed from the state level. So the question is, why not?” Ms Psaki said.
She said the money from the federal stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on 11 March “can be used to cover expenses that come up in this period of time, there are federal funds ... they just need to be distributed to the schools”.
According to the Florida Policy Institute, the American Rescue Plan will dole out around $10.23bn to the state, with counties receiving $4.17bn, metropolitan cities getting $1.47bn, and other local governments receiving $1.4bn.
“We’re continuing to look into what our options are to help protect and help support these teachers and administrators who are taking steps to protect people in their communities,” Ms Psaki told reporters, adding that the money from the stimulus bill could be used to pay salaries.
In a statement to The Independent, Mr DeSantis’ communications director Taryn Fenske said: “It is surprising that the White House would rather spend money on the salaries of bureaucratic superintendents and elected politicians, who don’t believe that parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children, than on Florida’s students, which is what these funds should be used for.”
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