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Feds Ready To Investigate Whether Students' Rights To Safe Education Violated

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona tells the Florida Roundup: "It's really important for local school leaders and local health officials to be able to use everything that they can to keep children safe."

On the Florida Roundup, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardnoa warns he is prepared to probe the state over its executive order on mask mandates and delay in distributing federal funds.

The federal government is ready to look into the reopening of public schools in Florida as Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran pressure school districts that have approved student mask mandates, despite the governor banning such requirements.

"Our Office for Civil Rights is prepared to take on any investigation necessary to support the safe reentry into schools if allegations that students rights to a free, appropriate public education are being violated," U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told the Florida Roundup on Friday.

The warning comes after President Joe Biden ordered Cardona Wednesday to “take action” against governors who have banned mask mandates.

Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Alachua and Sarasota counties now require students to wear masks in their classrooms with only medical exemptions.

"It really boils down to student safety and making sure we're protecting our students and our staff. We know [after] last year when we reopen schools that it's really important for local school leaders and local health officials to be able to use everything that they can to keep children safe," said Cardona.

Cardona sent an open letter to DeSantis and Corcoran a week ago. It said the federal agency supported local districts that had adopted mask policies in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also criticized the state for not allocating federal funds from the American Rescue Plan for local schools.

"We distributed the funds in March and districts should have these funds already," Cardona said. "I don't understand what the delay is."

Also Friday, Corcoran announced he was following through on his earlier threat to withhold funding from school districts with stringent mask policies. The school boards of Broward and Alachua counties were given 48 hours to comply with the Parents Bill of Rights state law or risk losing money equal to their board members' salaries. The superintendents of those districts told the state's Board of Education this week they did not believe their mask policies violate state law.

"What we're seeing in some places across the country is that local control is being taken away by state governments. And that goes against not only local control, but that goes against what we know works for students," Cardona said before Corcoran's announcement. “What we’re finding is where there is an overextension of reach, it is putting students away. And that’s the case in Florida.”
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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.