Feud between Florida and D.C. about school mask mandates is officially over

A standoff between Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and federal education officials about student mask requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic has ended after school districts canceled mask mandates.

The U.S. Department of Education confirmed this week that a cease-and-desist complaint against Florida’s education department has been dropped.

The complaint, filed Oct. 28 in the federal education department’s Division of Administrative Law Judges, involved a dispute about the state withholding money from districts that required students to wear masks.

The State Board of Education approved penalizing districts financially, relying on a Sept. 22 Florida Department of Health rule that said the choice to require masks should be at the “sole discretion” of parents. The state withheld amounts equal to the salaries of county school-board members.

In response, the Biden administration launched a grant program dubbed Project SAFE, or Project to Support America’s Families and Educators, to make up for the lost state funds. But the state responded by withholding money from districts equal to the federal grants.

That led to the U.S. Department of Education filing the cease-and-desist complaint focused on Alachua and Broward counties. But after those and other districts, including Miami-Dade’s, ended mask mandates, the state returned the withheld money — leading federal officials to drop the complaint.