State Watch

Florida returns funding to school districts penalized for mask mandates

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The Florida Department of Education (DOE) has reimbursed money it withheld from eight school districts across the state that enacted mask mandates earlier this year.

The DOE said it returned $877,851 that was withheld from Alachua County, Brevard County, Broward County, Duval County, Leon County, Miami-Dade County, Orange County and Palm Beach County.

The districts were penalized for instituting mask requirements for all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. The DOE voted to hold back the monthly salary of school board members, as well as any amount of federal grant funds awarded to those districts by the Biden administration.

A Florida DOE spokesman said the money was returned once the schools came into compliance with the law.

“We are glad that these districts have finally recognized that parents have the right to make personal and private health care and educational decisions for their children. The Department will continue to make sure those rights are protected,” agency spokesman Jared Ochs told The Hill.

Masks are no longer required in any district across the state, he said. 

State rules require school districts to allow parents to opt out of any school district student masking rules, without any reason. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in October signed an executive order that sought to curb the ability of school districts to impose COVID-19 mitigation strategies, like mask mandates.

Two school districts, Alachua and Broward, received grants from the Biden administration under a program meant to compensate school districts that are financially penalized for implementing COVID-19 mitigation strategies. 

The federal Department of Education in late October issued a “cease and desist complaint” to the Florida DOE, saying the agency unlawfully withheld state aid.

Jackie Johnson, a spokesperson for Alachua County, told The Hill that the district received $194,720, which was the amount equal to the withheld board member pay as well as the federal grants. 

The district had not yet deposited the check from the federal government, so they returned it, Johnson said.

Tags Coronavirus Florida mask mandate Ron DeSantis schools
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