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By Kanishka Singh
(Reuters) - The Florida Department of Education said on Monday it has withheld funds from two school districts that made masks mandatory in classrooms this fall.
"Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran announced that the Florida Department of Education has withheld the monthly school board member salaries in Alachua and Broward County, as directed by the State Board of Education," the department said in a statement.
Earlier this month, the Florida Board of Education told the two school districts that some of their state funding would be withheld if they failed to provide parents with a way to opt out of a requirement that children wear masks.
A Florida state judge on Friday ruled that the state had no authority to enforce an order by Governor Ron DeSantis banning public school districts from requiring masks in classrooms, and barring his administration from withholding funds over mask mandates.
School boards in Broward and Alachua counties have mandated masks in schools in defiance of an executive order issued last month by DeSantis that barred local officials from imposing mask mandates.
"Each district has implemented a mandatory face mask policy that violates parental rights by not allowing a parent or legal guardian to opt-out their child," the statement said, adding that the penalties will continue until the school boards comply.
Florida is one of several states where Republican governors have sought to prevent local governments and school districts from mandating masks.
These governors have said that such rules infringe on personal liberty. Proponents of mask mandates have said the rules are necessary to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic, as cases rise particularly in areas with lower vaccination rates, driven by the highly infectious coronavirus Delta variant.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler)