By Jessica Vallejo

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As the Delta variant continues to surge across South Florida, Broward County schools say they will not budge.

After the school board voted to defy Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order barring mask mandates in schools, the Florida Department of Education threatened to withhold the salaries of the superintendent and members of the school board.

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Friday, in a letter to the Florida Department of Health, Broward County public schools implored the safety of their children comes first.

Rosalind Osgood, chair of Broward County School Board said, “Florida is the epicenter for the COVID-19 violence. In Broward county, hospitals are now close to being filled with capacity. We’re in a very, very difficult moment in time with losing people to COVID.”

“We feel strongly that the lives of our students and staff are invaluable, and we’re not willing to play Russian roulette with their lives or take a risk of losing people because we have people in schools without masks,” Osgood said.

But the school board got a strong denial.

Richard Corcoran, the DOE commissioner responded, saying the county “must allow for a parent or legal guardian of the student to opt-out the student from wearing a mask.“

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The letter stated if officials do not show proof of compliance, they will be fined.

Now, the White House is stepping in.

CBS4 News obtained a letter, where the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said it stands with the educators who are working to safely re-open schools, elaborating that the department will “do everything in our power to provide a safe environment for our students and staff to thrive.”

Cardona went on to say that any penalties the DeSantis administration imposes against schools could be replaced by federal relief funds.

He criticized the state for allegedly not using the billions in federal money sent to help schools and teachers deal with covid, for their intended purpose.

So far, Governor DeSantis is sticking to his guns.

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“We believe that the parent, rather than the government should ultimately be able to make that decision. Um, I’m not sure that they have, the wherewithal. They’re also talking about imposing a potential nationwide mass mandate on kindergartners’ first graders, you know, who knows, regardless of what the parents believe is in the best interest of their kids. And obviously, if you’re talking about the federal government coming in and overruling parents in our communities, you know, that would be something that we would fight back against,” said Gov. DeSantis.

Jessica Vallejo