WASHINGTON – The Biden government admonished Republican governors of Texas and Florida on Friday for preventing local school districts from requiring masks or other measures to protect students from the coronavirus this coming school year.
Education Minister Miguel Cardona sent two letters to the governors and their education officers saying that he was concerned about the recent actions taken by the executive branches of both governors.
These orders, he wrote, prohibited districts from “voluntarily adopting science-based strategies to prevent the spread of Covid-19 that are aligned with the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” such as universal masking. The letters were published late Friday.
The debate over whether local school districts can require masks has become very partisan. Republicans have introduced mask rules as a violation of parental rights, while Democrats have stated that they are a public health issue.
Last week, President Biden also criticized Republican governors such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott for banning masked mandates, saying that they “pass laws and sign orders prohibiting people from doing what is right”.
“If you don’t want to help, at least get out of the way,” said Mr Biden.
In a letter published on Friday, Dr. Cardona Governor DeSantis for threatening this week to withhold the salaries of district leaders or school board members who opposed his order.
The Secretary of Education noted that the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress, has allocated more than $ 7 billion to the state for security measures. None of the money was given to local counties, wrote Dr. Cardona, and it could be used to pay school officials’ salaries.
“In fact, Florida appears to be threatening to withhold government funding from school districts working to safely reopen schools rather than protecting students and educators and providing school districts with federal pandemic recovery funds to which they are entitled,” said Dr. Cardona wrote.
In his letter to Texas officials, Dr. Cardona Governor Abbott’s orders to block masking rules in schools, as well as other state policies that make contract prosecution optional.
Dr. Cardona said Governor Abbott’s order “may violate a school district’s authority to establish guidelines to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to personal lesson plans required by federal law.”
The offices of Governor DeSantis and Governor Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
He suggested that the state’s actions could jeopardize its federal aid funds. The guidelines, he wrote, appeared to “limit the development of local health and safety guidelines and conflict with the school district planning process” required by the Department of Education’s rules to receive the aid.
Dr. Cardona said his department’s rules emphasize that districts are free to use their funds at their own discretion and that contact tracing, inner mask guidelines, and other CDC recommendations are allowed and encouraged.
Dr. Cardona added that the Biden government “will continue to closely examine and monitor” that both states are complying with federal funding laws.
Dr. Cardona also expressed support for districts in both states that defied governors’ orders.
“The department stands by these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe personal instruction,” he wrote.