TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) – The state of Florida has officially returned $ 878,000 it had withheld from eight local school districts for implementing mask mandates without parental removal earlier in the school year.
$ 309,000 in school board member salaries had been withheld as well as an additional $ 568,000 after some school boards approached the federal government to make up for lost funds.
Jackie Johnson, public information officer for the Alachua School District, told us the district did not expect the state to reimburse the money.
âWe received a check from the federal government but hadn’t cashed it when we learned we were getting the money refunded by the state. So we just sent the check back to the federal government, âJohnson said.
But the education ministry said it was still part of the plan.
In an October letter to the US Department of Education, the Florida education commissioner said the money would be refunded once districts were brought into compliance.
âWe are pleased that these districts have finally recognized that parents have the right to make personal and private decisions about the health care and education of their children. The Department will continue to ensure that these rights are protected, âFDOE Director of Communications Jared Ochs said in an emailed statement.
The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said it was just happy to see the conflict resolved.
âI mean at the end of the day, what every school board and superintendent wanted to do in this state was make sure they were protecting every child,â FEA President Andrew Spar said.
The department returning the funds is also avoiding a possible dispute with the federal government, which had scheduled a hearing to determine whether the state’s actions violated federal law.
This will likely be the last in the school masking debate for the foreseeable future, now that state law clearly states that masking is in the hands of parents.
The statutory clarification came during the November special session of the Florida legislature.
âOur hands are tied,â Johnson said.
And with the potential for a winter peak fueled by the Omicron variant, FEA is urging Floridians to do their part to keep students safe.
âBut we all have to work together to make it happen,â said Spar.
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