Some news outlets, including The Miami Herald and Politico, reported on Friday that DeSantis had "softened" or "backpedaled" on his "threats" to cut pay to school superintendents and board members who insisted on mask mandates for children. The reports claimed that DeSantis "backed down" after the Alachua and Broward school districts remained "defiant," and that his office "admitted" the governor had no control over local employees’ pay.
However, DeSantis never made any such claim to cut pay – directly.
As Fox News reported earlier this week, the governor’s plan was to withhold funding to districts that equals the amount of salaries for the Superintendent and members of school boards.
"The state does not, and has never, managed the payroll for local officials," DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw said in a statement. "Therefore, the only way the state could ever tailor the financial penalties to hold accountable the few officials who made the decision to break the law, would be to withhold state funding in the exact amount of those officials’ salaries."
"That was the plan since the initial statement from our office came out a week ago and it has not changed — because this is (has always been) the extent of what the state can do in terms of tailoring sanctions," Pushaw added.
She labeled reports that claimed the governor has "softened" his stance as "fake news."
However, Miami Herald senior editor Dave Wilson insists that "the governor's position has changed."
"His executive order of July 30, broadly stated and threatened to withhold the transfer of state funds and other funds until a school district complies with the law," Wilson said in a statement to Fox News. "Now his stance has narrowed to targeting the salaries of superintendents and school board members, and his office admits … the state has no means to directly withhold those salaries from those individuals."
Pushaw told Fox News that the board of education will hold an emergency meeting next Tuesday to discuss Corcoran’s findings related to Alachua and Broward school districts. Sanctions may follow depending on whether or not the districts have been found to violate the mask mandate ban.
DeSantis signed an order on Jun. 30 that effectively banned school districts from establishing mask mandates, even as cases continue to rise in his state. The initial order also made clear that Corcoran’s authority would include withholding state funding – not directly "slashing salaries."
On Tuesday, the Fort Lauderdale-area Broward County School Board voted to maintain the school district's mask mandate, which dates back to July 28. The delta variant of COVID-19 has sparked a new rise in coronavirus cases. The board voted 8-1 to keep the mandate in place, allowing exceptions for health and safety concerns.
"You can't ignore this pandemic. It's deadly, and it's getting worse instead of better and the more we don't use masks, the more we position the mutation of this virus to grow," Rosalind Osgood, the school board chair, said during a special board meeting Tuesday. She later told CNN that she would not "risk and play Russian roulette" with children who cannot get vaccinated.
Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced Wednesday that the state would open an investigation on Friday, Aug. 13, into schools that did not comply with the governor’s order, saying that depending on the results, he might "recommend to the State Board of Education that the Department withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for the Superintendent and all the members of the School Board."
The Miami Herald then reported Friday that the DeSantis administration "is acknowledging" it has no control over school officials’ pay, citing a statement by Pushaw in which she said that "officials who infringe upon that right should own their decisions – and that means owning the consequences of their decisions, rather than demanding students, teachers, and school staff to foot the bill for their political grandstanding."
The Herald stressed that it stands by its reporting.
Fox News’ Tyler O'Neil contributed to this report.