Florida penalizes school district over masks, federal COVID grant

Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and Florida education commissioner Richard Corcoran

The state of Florida has docked a school district more than $164,000 for defying a ban on classroom mask mandates and for being awarded a federal coronavirus grant, county school officials said Wednesday.

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon said the penalty includes monthly salaries of its school board members as well as the full amount of a federal virus grant the county applied for last month. Simon said the county was awarded more than $147,000 through the grant but has not yet used any of the funds.

The penalty is the latest development in an ongoing feud between the White House and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration over coronavirus regulations. DeSantis is eyeing a possible 2024 presidential run and is one of several GOP governors who have moved to ban mask mandates, though policies on face coverings, testing and quarantines in schools vary widely across the country.

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The Florida State Board of Education earlier this month approved plans to withhold a month’s salary from school board members in districts with classroom mask requirements and reduce overall funding if those counties receive a federal grant intended to blunt the state’s fines.

The announcement from Alachua County comes days after the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to Florida warning that deducting money from districts that received the grant would violate federal law. The letter added that the federal government "is prepared to initiate enforcement action to stop these impermissible state actions."

The state education department did not immediately comment. The federal education department did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

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