- Some schools are defying Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's ban on mask mandates.
- DeSantis has threatened to withhold paychecks from school leaders that are not complying.
- Biden's education secretary said school districts can use federal relief funds to pay the salaries.
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The Biden administration offered financial assistance to school board members in Florida as they battle with Gov. Ron DeSantis over mask requirements in schools.
DeSantis, a Republican, signed an order just weeks before school was set to be back in session that prohibited Florida schools from requiring students to where face masks and threatened to withhold state funding from schools that didn't comply.
This week, after some schools chose to keep a mask mandate in defiance of the governor's order, DeSantis threatened to withhold the paychecks of school superintendents and school board members enforcing mandates.
In a letter sent Friday to DeSantis and Florida's commissioner of education, the US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the Biden administration supports the school leaders' efforts.
"The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction," Cardona wrote.
He also said that any schools whose state funding is withheld can use pandemic-related federal relief funds to pay school officials' salaries.
"In other words, 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" with federal relief funds "at the sole and complete discretion of Florida school districts," he wrote.
He said that if the Florida Department of Education does not work with the Biden administration on COVID-19 precautions, then the federal government "will continue to work directly with the school districts and educators that serve Florida's students."
In a statement provided to Politico in response to the letter, a spokesperson for DeSantis said the White House wanted to spend money "on the salaries of 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."
The battle over masks mandates is playing out as Florida experiences one of the worst COVID-19 surges in the US. The state is consistently clocking record daily case counts and increasing hospitalizations.
Earlier this week, three unvaccinated elementary school teachers in Broward County, Florida, died of COVID-19.