▶ Watch Video: School districts battle over mask mandates as COVID-19 Delta variant spreads

The Florida Board of Education on Friday threatened two school districts with funding cuts after they directly violated a recent executive order from Governor Ron DeSantis by issuing mask mandates for their students. Both Alachua and Broward County school districts have 48 hours to drop their mask mandates before the board takes further action.

“We cannot have government officials pick and choose what laws they want to follow,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in a statement. “These are the initial consequences to their intentional refusal to follow state law and state rule to purposefully and willingly violate the rights of parents. This is simply unacceptable behavior.”

Last month, DeSantis signed an executive order barring public school districts from forcing students to wear a face mask and allowing parents the “freedom to choose” whether or not their child wears a mask.

On Tuesday, the Alachua County School District Board voted unanimously to extend the district’s mask mandate for eight more weeks. In a statement released Friday, Alachua County Public Schools said it has “no plans to change our current masking requirement” and that it will “pursue legal action” if necessary.

“Based on the dramatic spike in cases and quarantines in our schools and community, we believe universal masking is absolutely critical to keeping schools open, protecting the health of our students and staff and limiting the current strain on our local healthcare system,” officials said. 

Meanwhile, Broward County Public Schools also implemented a face mask mandate for students, staff and visitors while indoors and on school busses despite DeSantis’ rule. 

In response, the State Board of Education said both school districts will be required to document their compliance with DeSantis’ order within 48 hours. If they do not, the school board members who voted to impose the mask mandates will see 1/12 of their total annual compensation cut until they comply. 

The board first threatened to penalize school districts earlier this month as DeSantis’ opt-in mask rule received pushback from several school districts as well as from President Biden, who called the rule “bad health policy.”

“If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way of people trying to do the right thing,” Mr. Biden said.

In a statement Friday, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said he stands by Alachua and Broward County school districts.

“It is deeply troubling to see state leaders putting politics ahead of the health and safety of our students, and that instead of supporting our educators for doing the right thing, state leaders are trying to punish them,” Cardona said. “Let me reiterate: we stand ready to assist any district facing repercussions for imposing CDC-recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies that will protect the health and safety of students, educators, and staff.” 

Three other school boards also voted this week to implement face mask mandates. They were not mentioned in the Board of Education’s notice on Friday.