A Florida school district began collecting federal funding on Thursday after Florida’s government withheld state funding to punish the school for implementing a mask mandate and other precautions aimed at reducing the spread of Covid-19.
Alachua County Public Schools, the first district in the country to receive federal funds, is getting $147,719 to compensate school board members whose salaries are being withheld by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Republican governor is withholding money from members of the board who voted for the mask mandate, which DeSantis banned via an executive order this summer.
The federal funding comes from a Biden administration anti-Covid grant program that’s funded by legislation Congress passed this spring.
“We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement, adding, “Every student across the country deserves the opportunity to return to school in person safely this fall, and every family should be confident that their school is implementing policies that keep their children safe.”
Strong leaders deserve support. Today, we awarded the first Project SAFE grant to @AlachuaSchools to cover financial penalties imposed on them for using policies that keep students safe. I spoke with @DrCarleeSimon to let her know: we have her back. pic.twitter.com/CpkJKq2xER
— Secretary Miguel Cardona (@SecCardona) September 23, 2021
Dr. Carlee Simon, the Alameda County superintendent, said in a statement that she is “grateful” to the administration for the funding. “But I’m even more grateful for their continued support and encouragement of our efforts to protect students and staff and to keep our schools open for in-person learning,” she said.
The fight over DeSantis’s opposition to mask mandates in public schools is now playing out in court. DeSantis has also recently held events where he invited anti-vaxxers to speak and then stood by while they spread misinformation about vaccines. And he has fought preventative measures to quell the spread of the virus, even banning businesses from asking customers to reveal their vaccination status.
According to Alachua County Public Schools, DeSantis’s Department of Education has held back two months’ worth of salaries for the four school board members who dared implement precautions to keep students safe, totaling $27,000 so far. The state government has withheld school board members’ salaries from Broward County, which also has a mask requirement.