The Florida Board of Education officials on Tuesday said two county school districts violated state law because they required students without medical exemptions to wear masks and could therefore face penalties. Gov. Ron DeSantis has threatened to withhold money from school districts that require masks.

School leaders in Alachua County and Broward County are facing a range of possible punishments for requiring students and teachers to wear masks in order to protect themselves and each other. DeSantis signed an executive order on June 30 that bans mask requirements and enables parents to decide what they deem best for their child’s health. The two counties mandated the masks anyway and only let students opt out if they provided a medical reason.

“We have districts picking and choosing what laws they want to follow,” said Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

Corcoran wrote in letters last week that the state would pursue financial penalties if districts decided to require doctors’ notes. He threatened to withhold “funds in an amount equal to the salaries for the superintendent and all the members of the school board.”

Florida, along with states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas have been pushing back against mask mandates for students as in-person learning is set to resume this fall. The Delta variant is forcing some schools to reconsider their stances on masks despite DeSantis threatening to withhold funding if they disobey his orders.

State board chairman Tom Grady says punishments “may involve withholding salaries, it may involve removing officers, it may involve reviewing district conduct.”

The Hillsborough school board is considering mandating masks after nearly 8,000 students were forced to quarantine last week. There have been about 1,200 COVID-19 cases in the county's schools since Aug. 9 including 487 cases on Monday. On top of the new infections in Hillsborough, three educators in Broward County have died from the virus last week.

The Alachua County School Board voted unanimously to extend the school district’s mask mandate for eight weeks. Meanwhile, Broward has decided to fight the state’s punishment.

“Once we are sanctioned we will challenge the sanction in court,” said Rosalind Osgood, chair of the Broward County School Board. Osgood added the schools plan to open tomorrow as planned.

On Aug. 17, Florida reported a record high of 21,669 new cases and seven deaths from COVID-19, with a seven-day average of 24,720 cases and 138 deaths. The state currently has had 2.96 million cases and 41,130 total deaths as the state fights one of the worst COVID outbreaks in America.

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