Students arrive for first day of school year at Sessums Elementary School, Riverview, Florida (Chris O’Meara/AP)

Punishing school districts trying to contain Coronavirus, the Florida Department of Education strips local boards of federal aid money if they require masks in classrooms.

In line with the anti-mask demands of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Department withdrew the grants for Alachua and Broward Counties, intended to offset state penalties for enacting local mask mandates.

The Department slashed $164,505 from Alachua’s October budget, deducing the monthly salary of school board members plus all of a $147,717 “Project SAFE” grant promised by the Biden Administration. The funding in Broward, Florida’s second-largest county, was cut by $526,197.

Alachua officials said the Department cut their October budget even before federal money arrived. “I am appalled that the state would penalize the district by pulling funding we have not even received,” Carlee Simon, Alachua County Public Schools superintendent, said Wednesday.

The US Department of Education said it will try to block the cuts, declaring its preparation to “initiate enforcement action to stop these impermissible state actions”.

Other county boards reversed plans for masks after the threats from DeSantis and the Department. On October 8, the Board of Education sanctioned eight districts, with cuts equal to school board members’ salaries.

Florida is third in the US, behind California and Texas, with 58,933 deaths and 3,678,661 confirmed cases.

Rates surged this summer amid the spread of the Delta variant, reaching a 7-day average of 445 daily deaths on September 20 and almost 30,000 daily cases. At one point, the state was recording 20% of all US cases.