Florida Board of Schooling votes to withhold funds from faculty districts that implement COVID-19 masks mandates

The Florida Board of Schooling voted unanimously on Thursday to financially sanction eight faculty districts that enforced masks mandates of their faculties to forestall the unfold of COVID-19. These district masks insurance policies, which adhere to federal steering, go towards state guidelines that require mother and father to have the “sole discretion” in whether or not their youngsters put on masks to high school. 

The choice was made at Thursday’s assembly after board members weighed feedback from the general public, superintendents and board officers about whether or not districts for Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Seashore counties have been in compliance with the state’s guidelines. 

5 of the counties, together with Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Palm Seashore and Duval, have a number of the highest numbers of COVID instances within the state, based on John’s Hopkins.

In late September, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new rule that claims faculties can require mask-wearing on campus, however that college students can choose out of the requirement “on the guardian or authorized guardian’s sole discretion.” The rule additionally permits college students who’ve been straight uncovered to COVID-19 to maintain going to high school if they’re asymptomatic. 

Across the similar time this steering got here out, the CDC revealed two research that present implementing masks in faculties helps scale back the unfold of COVID-19.

The state’s Division of Schooling mentioned in an announcement that the counties “willingly and knowingly violated the rights of scholars and fogeys by denying them the choice to make private and personal well being care and academic choices for his or her youngsters.” 

Whereas discussing Alachua County, Board Commissioner Richard Corcoran urged the Board of Schooling to penalize noncompliant districts by withholding funds equal to 1/12 of all faculty board members annual salaries. He additionally advisable that the board withhold state funds “in an quantity equal to” any federal grant funds for districts that “help noncompliance” with state protocols. 

The board unanimously approved his advice, giving districts 48 hours to stick to state regulation. 

“[Districts] cannot decide and select which components of the regulation they wish to observe. …Schooling is a state accountability, not a federal one,” Corcoran mentioned. 

In September, the U.S. Division of Schooling awarded Alachua County $147,719 in Undertaking SAFE funds to help the district’s efforts “to guard college students as they return to protected, in-person studying regardless of the state’s actions to ban implementation of methods to restrict the unfold of COVID-19.” 

“We won’t be strong-armed,” Corcoran mentioned regarding the grant, “nor will we enable others to be.” 

The board mentioned through the assembly that not one of the aforementioned faculties allowed college students to choose out beneath their mother and father’ or guardians’ “sole discretion,” with a number of the districts requiring medical reasoning. 

Superintendents argued, nevertheless, that they didn’t enable the opt-outs to guard college students so they may proceed in-person studying. Alachua Superintendent Carlee Simon pointed to the state’s “Mother and father Invoice of Rights,” which states that entities can not infringe on parental rights “with out demonstrating that such motion is cheap and crucial to realize compelling state curiosity and that such motion is narrowly tailor-made will not be in any other case served by a much less restrictive means.” 

“Our present insurance policies are affordable and crucial to guard the well being of our college students, which is actually a compelling curiosity,” Simon mentioned. 

In August, the district required masks be correctly worn in buildings always. 

Regardless of the board’s resolution to penalize districts, Simon mentioned after the assembly that her district will preserve its present protocols, saying it’s “our constitutional obligation to supply college students with a protected studying atmosphere.” Alachua, in addition to Broward, have already had a few of their state funding withheld this 12 months over their masks insurance policies. 

Alachua County Public Colleges mentioned that the U.S. Division of Schooling has informed Florida that the withholding of state funds due to a federal grant could also be unlawful.

Beneath please discover an replace from Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon concerning the Florida Board of Schooling’s sanction of…

Posted by Alachua County Public Colleges on Thursday, October 7, 2021

Diana Greene, superintendent for Duval County, mentioned that eight days into the college 12 months, there have been 492 COVID instances reported to the state, most of which have been college students. Two weeks into the autumn semester, 10 district workers had died due to COVID-19. 

“At present, we’ve got greater than 2,800 optimistic instances,” she mentioned. 

A number of group members mentioned they supported their districts’ resolution to implement masks mandates, however the board members urged individuals to solely point out information about compliance to state guidelines, not about issues for college COVID security. 

One lady informed the board that her son, JJ, is wheelchair-bound, and makes use of an iPad for communication. She mentioned he makes use of his nostril to kind on the iPad, and as such, can not put on a masks. 

“JJ is presently caught at house as a result of, throughout a pandemic that is killed almost 5 million individuals, this board determined to offer unvaccinated, unmasked college students the ultimate say on whether or not they wish to unfold a extremely contagious airborne virus,” she mentioned. “This implies JJ has not had any type of training thus far this faculty 12 months.” 

From September 24 to September 30, there have been greater than 37,700 new instances of COVID-19, based on state knowledge. The instances are a part of a decline in statewide instances after a number of weeks of a pointy improve. Youngsters and youngsters made up greater than 9,800 instances in Florida that week. 

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