School board members abandon oath of office
TAMPA, FL―June 13, 2022― The Hillsborough County Parent Alliance announced today that per Governor Ron DeSantis, eligible Hillsborough County schools will receive funding from the 2022/2023 School Recognition Program. During the 2022 legislative session, Florida legislators proposed consequences for the 12 districts that violated the 2021 Florida Department of Health Emergency Rule (64DER21-15) requiring a mask mandate opt-out. The proposed legislation would have limited $200 million in School Recognition Funds to the 55 districts that met the grading requirements and complied with the emergency rule. Governor DeSantis signed the Freedom First Budget on Thursday, June 2, 2022, prioritizing the freedoms of Floridians to live, work, and have successful businesses in the state. In a letter to Education Commissioner Manny Diaz regarding the Florida School Recognition Program, Governor DeSantis instructed Diaz to reward all School Recognition-eligible schools for their achievements, regardless of mask mandate conditions.
During the August 18, 2021 school board meeting, board members were reminded of their oath to support, protect, and defend the Constitution and government of the United States and the state of Florida. They were legally advised that mandating masks without parental opt-out would risk withholding state funds. “Because we allow a parental opt-out, we are consistent with the state order,” stated Jim Porter, Hillsborough County School Board attorney. “If the board decides to change [the mask mandate] to make it more restrictive by requiring medical opt-out, there are risks involved, and I need this board to understand what those risks are before you vote to change anything.” In a vote of 5-2, the Hillsborough County School Board mandated masks without parental opt-out, violating the DOH Emergency Rule and their oath of office.
The Hillsborough County School District (HCSD) was notified by then Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, of probable cause for noncompliance with state law on October 4, 2021. Forty-eight hours before the State Board of Education was scheduled to discuss board member sanctions, the school board removed the medical opt-out requirement.
Over 500 Hillsborough County parents, guardians, teachers, staff, and students memorialized their steadfast dedication to individual accountability for board members that violated the emergency rule in an April 2022 petition. “The school board members abandoned their oath to defend the law with indifference to collateral damage,” says Elisabeth Thomas, Hillsborough County Parent Alliance. “I’m happy the Governor looked past the board members’ flawed judgment this time, ensuring our teachers and staff are not collectively impacted. This is a wise tradeoff as applying immediate consequences will not remedy the school board’s ineffective decision-making. We must ask ourselves when choosing elected officials, ‘what does good leadership look like when it comes to our children?’”
Governor DeSantis’ letter to Commissioner Diaz provides insight into his desire to hold board members accountable but not directly impact schools. “Compliance with the law by the schools, and not the districts, drive the allocation of funds for the program,” DeSantis wrote. “At most, districts are a pass-through, as districts have no lawful means to spend these funds.” He continues, “I articulated my support for holding administrators accountable, as long as classrooms and schools were not impacted.”
All eligible schools across Florida will now be rewarded for their achievements. “We are thrilled with the decision to provide all eligible schools with the funds they deserve. Our district received over $9 million in School Recognition Funds in prior years. This is not insignificant, especially for teachers and staff that will receive this money in bonus pay,” shares Kelly Carling, Hillsborough County Parent Alliance. “Our faculty, staff, and students should not be responsible for board member overreach.”
About Hillsborough County Parent Alliance:
Hillsborough County Parent Alliance is a coalition of parents, guardians, and citizens that advocate for protecting parental rights.