In the new letters to Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stressed that their respective states’ school mask policies go against “science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19” and sharply voiced the Biden administration’s support for the states’ educators.
“The Department recognizes that several school districts in your State have already moved to adopt such policies in line with guidance from the CDC for the reopening and operation of school facilities despite the State level prohibitions. The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction,” Cardona wrote in the letter, which was also addressed to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
CNN’s requests for comment from the offices of both governors and state education commissioners were not immediately returned Friday.
Psaki said later that paying for salaries could be a part of that, and the Department of Education is looking at options. Withholding funds is not the intention, she said.
In Friday’s letter to DeSantis and Corcoran, Cardona pointed to how Florida school districts can use funds from federal Covid relief for educators’ salaries, noting that “any threat by Florida to withhold salaries from superintendents and school board members who are working to protect students and educators (or to levy other financial penalties) can be addressed using ESSER funds at the sole and complete discretion of Florida school districts.”
In the letter to the Florida Association of School Administrators on Friday, Cardona further emphasized the administration’s support for the state’s educators: “I want you to know that the U.S. Department of Education stands with you. Your decisions are vital to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction, and they are undoubtedly in the best interest of your students.”
Implementing mask requirements in schools has become a politicized topic of debate in some states across the country. As of last week, at least seven states — Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah — prohibit districts from requiring masks in schools, although there are efforts underway to push back against those bans.