As elementary and high school students return to face-to-face learning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) vowed to financially penalize education leaders who force students to cover their nose and mouth on Aug. 9.

The governor’s office confirmed the State Board of Education will treat any school official who imposes a face mask mandate very seriously. Superintendents and school board members could have their salaries withheld until they relinquish the offending mandate.

“[This is] a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law,” a representative said according to CBS4.

The remarks came after DeSantis controversially announced a July executive order that no educational institution is allowed to force students to wear masks for protection against the deadly disease. He encouraged county school boards to let parents decide if they want to send children to school with a mask, otherwise taxpayer funds could be suspended.

The order drew strong criticism from multiple local schools and even President Joe Biden. The Biden administration regularly champions COVID-19 protocols.

NBC News revealed several parts of the Sunshine State tried to sidestep the rule when schools reopened. Education leaders claimed they cannot afford to risk an outbreak among students who do not wear masks.

“If something happened and things went sideways for us this week and next week as we started school, and heaven forbid we lost a child to this virus–I cannot just simply blame the governor of the state of Florida,” Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna said according to the broadcaster.

Hanna permitted schools to temporarily reinstate mask mandates with all children from prekindergarten through to at least eighth grade. This displeased Gov. DeSantis’s office which reiterated every parent’s right to make informed decisions on behalf of their children, and have those wishes respected.

“Education funding is intended to benefit students first and foremost, not systems,” a representative said at the time according to CBS4. “The governor’s priorities are protecting parents’s rights and ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality education that meets their unique needs.”

Penalties only apply to superintendents and school board members, not teachers or other employees.

“Ultimately, education funding is for the students,” governor’s office spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said on Twitter. “Kids did not make the decision to encroach upon parents’s rights, so any financial penalties for breaking the rule would be targeted to those officials who made that decision.”

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho quickly fired back that no loss of income will change his mind.

“At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck,” he said. “[Losing income is] a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue, and the potential impact to the health and wellbeing of our students and dedicated employees.”

Although 51.05% of residents are fully vaccinated, Florida has experienced a rise in infections due to the Delta variant.

John Hopkins University data showed seven-day averages in Florida jumped to 33,688 infections and 154 fatalities on Aug. 9. Intensive care unit hospital beds reached 89% capacity, with a 13,480 seven-day average hospitalization rate recorded on Aug. 7.

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