TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Education asked an administrative judge on Thursday to block the state of Florida from slashing federal aid money to two school districts over their mask mandates.
Federal education officials filed a complaint with the agency’s Office of Administrative Law Judges seeking a cease-and-desist order against Florida as well as a ruling that the state is in violation of federal law.
The filing comes a day after Alachua and Broward Counties said the state reduced their overall funding because they received federal grants meant to offset state penalties for their mask requirements.
“This action taken by the Department comes after we made repeated requests to work together and protect students, educators, and school communities,” said a U.S. Department of Education statement. “We believe Florida’s actions have violated federal law by reducing state funds based on the receipt by districts of federal funds.”
See (September 2021): Federal judge declines to block Florida ban on mask mandates
The legal action is the latest in a back-and-forth between Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the White House over coronavirus regulations. Separately on Thursday, DeSantis announced that the state had filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration over its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal contractors.
DeSantis is widely believed to be eyeing a 2024 presidential run.
From the archives (July 2021): Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota targeting barbs at fellow Republicans viewed as mulling 2024 presidential bids
The state recently approved measures to dock the salaries of school board members in districts that defy the governor’s ban on mask mandates in classrooms and withhold funding to the districts if they receive federal grants intended to blunt the state penalties. The U.S. Department of Education this week sent a letter to Florida warning that it would move to stop the state from reducing funding to districts that receive the grant.
Florida’s ban on school mask mandates has drawn legal challenges but has remained in effect.
Jared Ochs, a spokesman for the state education department, issued a statement saying, “Yes, we received another harassing and legally hollow letter from U.S. DOE, and again we will continue forward, lawfully, as we have this entire time.”
Coronavirus Update (August 2021): Debate over mask mandates in schools continues as COVID-19 vaccination rates increase among teens