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To block mask rules, DeSantis threatens school officials' salaries

Is the Republican governor prepared to follow through on his threats and punish education officials trying to stop the spread of a deadly virus?

With each passing day, Florida's COVID crisis intensifies as infection totals grow and hospitals fill. In a development reminiscent of the spring of 2020, state officials have reportedly requested hundreds of ventilators from the federal government, to help struggling COVID patients breathe.

By some accounts, health officials in Florida have noticed an increase in severe infections among kids. The timing couldn't be worse: school districts across the Sunshine State are beginning their academic year this week.

As Dr. Anthon Fauci explained on the show last night, the best way to protect children as they return to classrooms is (a) to make sure those around them are vaccinated; and (b) relying on masks to help stop the spread of the virus.

It's against this backdrop that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is blocking vaccine mandates and threatening local school officials who want to create mask rules.

Florida school superintendents who require masks for students without giving them a way to opt out could have their salaries withheld, Gov. Ron DeSantis' office said Monday. DeSantis last week barred local school districts from requiring students to wear masks amid a rise in cases, but at least one Florida school district said they will be mandatory when classes begin Wednesday.

It sometimes seems as if COVID-19 hired lobbyists who have undue influence in the governor's office.

It's of interest, however, that in some parts of the state, educators have decided to test DeSantis' threats. NBC News' report noted, for example, that the superintendent of schools for Leon County, which includes Tallahassee, the state capital, announced yesterday that masks will be temporarily required for all students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade -- though families will be able to opt out for medical or psychological reasons.

Meanwhile, Carlee Simon, the schools superintendent in Alachua County, wrote a Washington Post op-ed, explaining, "The governor recently threatened to withhold funds from school districts that implement certain safety measures, particularly masking. But we don't have the luxury of ignoring the current crisis to score political points."

Simon's piece went on to explain why she's adopted universal masking for schools in her county, concluding, "I value life too much to take chances with the lives of others, even under the threat of retaliation. As our school board chair has so aptly put it, better a loss of funding than a loss of lives."

Miami-Dade County hasn't yet made a formal decision on masks, but its superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, said in a statement yesterday, "At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck; a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees."

Is the Republican governor prepared to follow through on his threats and punish education officials trying to stop the spread of a deadly virus? Or will he quietly back off and risk appearing weak in advance of his upcoming campaigns?

Watch this space.