Even though a state judge upheld the legality of Alachua County Public Schools’ mask mandate last week, the Florida Department of Education kept its promise and is withholding school board members’ salaries this month.
Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran announced the decision Monday. As a result, Alachua County and Broward County school board members who voted for their respective mask mandates will not be paid until further notice.
School Board Member Mildred Russell was sworn in Aug. 26 after being appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. However, she will not lose her monthly salary because she wasn’t a part of the school board when the vote to implement the mandate occurred.
“We’re going to fight to protect parent’s rights to make health care decisions for their children,” Corcoran said. “They know what is best for their children.”
As a result of going against the governor’s office and enforcing a mask mandate, ACPS is losing $13,429 a month, which is the total combined monthly salary of the four affected school board members.
The district is exploring its options to make up for the loss of funds, spokesperson Jackie Johnson said. The Alachua County Commission and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona have offered assistance to cover losses.
This was considered an “initial step” by Corcoran, according to a previous letter to the school districts in which he threatened to cut school board member salaries. It remains unclear how much money could be withheld in the coming months.
Superintendent Carlee Simon released a statement in regard to the cut of funding.
“I’m very troubled by the state’s action,” she wrote. “Our School Board members made a courageous decision to protect the health and lives of students, staff and the people of this community, and a court already ruled they have the legal right to do so. They deserve praise, not penalties.”
Florida Circuit Judge John Cooper delivered his ruling verbally Friday, saying that Desantis’ mask mandate is unconstitutional.
The district is working to file a lawsuit against the state, as it recently signed a contract with Greenberg Traurig, the same law firm as Broward County Public Schools. However, ACPS is waiting on a written statement from Cooper before taking legal action.
Until then, Johnson said the school board will not be intimidated to remove or alter its mask mandate.
“It’s necessary to try to prevent the spread of COVID as much as possible and to keep everyone safe,” Johnson said. “They’re sticking with it.”
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Faith Buckley is a first-year journalism student at UF and The Alligator's swimming and diving beat writer. She is specializing in sports media to one day hopefully work as an NHL commentator.