Florida state education officials decided Tuesday to take punitive measures against Alachua County Public Schools due to its mask mandate.
The Florida Board of Education ultimately passed an order that would allow it to investigate Alachua County’s school board and superintendent and also prevent funds from reaching the district. Other potential consequences include withholding salaries and removing officers. Broward County faced similar punishments for its mask mandate.
The meeting came amid the struggle between school districts and the state government on masking in schools as the country grapples with rising Delta variant cases.
On Monday, President Joe Biden called Broward County’s interim superintendent to express support for the county’s mask mandate, according to the Miami Herald. Biden did not call anyone from ACPS, according to the White House.
During the meeting, ACPS superintendent Carlee Simon argued the mask mandate complied with state policy.
Simon pointed out that the district detailed exemptions. Students under the Hope Scholarship, which covers transfers to new schools if students encountered abusive treatment at previous schools, are exempt along with medical conditions.
“Our goal is to keep our schools open,” she said. “The masks are a safety device that we are using to reduce the spread of COVID and the need for quarantine.”
Simon said she hoped state officials would focus more on school safety and assisting districts rather than dwelling on the legality of district mask mandates. She expressed disapproval of the disciplinary nature of the board’s conduct.
“The punitive approach of the commissioner is driven by a need for compliance regardless of rationale,” she alleged.
Board of Education Chair Tom Grady asked Simon who would ultimately exercise power over ACPS’ policies. Simon replied that the local board should exercise power on local matters. Grady responded by referencing a bylaw from a manual that governs the activities of ACPS that proclaims state authorities ultimately control public education in the county.
Simon argued that part of the need for a mask mandate was the fact that some children may be coming to school from COVID-positive households.
“I have parents who are bringing their children to school, and the parent is positive,” she said. “I’m thankful that that child is wearing a mask.”
Contact Omar Ateyah at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @OAteyah.
Omar is a second-year journalism major and news assistant for The Alligator. He enjoys going on long, thoughtful walks.