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Alachua County Is The First To Get Federal Reimbursement Over Its Mask Mandate

Alachua County School District
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The Alachua County School District has received cash from the Biden administration to make up for state pay cuts imposed over a board’s vote for a student mask mandate.

The Alachua County School District has received $148,000 from the Biden administration to make up for pay cuts.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that was sending roughly $148,000 to Alachua County Public Schools, reimbursing it for money that has been withheld by the state.

The award is the first under the department’s new Project to Support America’s Families and Educators (Project SAFE) grant program and the latest salvo in an escalating fight over masking in schools between Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

At the end of July, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring that students wear masks. Nevertheless, several school boards voted to require masking in defiance of the ban. In response, the state moved to penalize two of those districts, in Alachua and Broward counties, by withholding state funding equivalent to the monthly salaries of the school board members who voted to defy the mask mandate ban.

So far, the state has withheld two months of board member salaries.

President Joe Biden later promised school boards that the federal government would cover the lost funds.

Alachua schools Superintendent Carlee Simon learned of the reimbursment in a phone call with Cardona, In a statement Simon expressed gratitude for the funding “but I’m even more grateful for [the Biden administration’s] continued support and encouragement of our efforts to protect students and staff and to keep our schools open for in-person learning.”

“With these grants, we’re making sure schools and communities across the country that are committed to safely returning to in-person learning know that we have their back.”

Hillsborough and Sarasota are among the counties to defy the governor's executive order that aimed to block student mask mandates by local school districts.

Cory Turner reports and edits for the NPR Ed team. He's helped lead several of the team's signature reporting projects, including "The Truth About America's Graduation Rate" (2015), the groundbreaking "School Money" series (2016), "Raising Kings: A Year Of Love And Struggle At Ron Brown College Prep" (2017), and the NPR Life Kit parenting podcast with Sesame Workshop (2019). His year-long investigation with NPR's Chris Arnold, "The Trouble With TEACH Grants" (2018), led the U.S. Department of Education to change the rules of a troubled federal grant program that had unfairly hurt thousands of teachers.