GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Alachua County Public Schools announced Thursday that it is the first school district in the nation to receive a federal grant to replace funding that was withheld over its mask mandate.
The district was given $148,000 by the U.S. Department of Education through its Project Safe grant program, which reimburses school districts for funding withheld by a state government because of mask requirements and other coronavirus-related protocols.
Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon was informed of the grant during a call Thursday with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
“Well, in our situation, right now, we are very much under a lot of pressure from the state government, the commissioner of education and the governor to essentially act out their will and go along this path of managing COVID,” Simon told News4Jax. “It is comforting, though, that we have the president and the U.S. Department of Education that are there to support us.”
According to the district, the Florida Department of Education has withheld two months’ worth of salaries for the four Alachua County School Board members who voted for the mask mandate, amounting to nearly $27,000.
The school boards in Alachua, Broward, Leone, Miami-Dade and Orange counties challenged a state rule, which has since been replaced, that drew heavy attention as those school districts and others have sought to require students to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal face masking in school settings within areas that are showing high or substantial spread of COVID-19. While numbers are going down, the positivity rate in most of the state is still in that status.