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Florida Department of Education releases paychecks it withheld from school board members that implemented mask mandates

By Paul P. Murphy, CNN

The Florida Department of Education has reversed policy and paid the paychecks for school board members in eight districts across the state, after it withheld them for months when the districts enacted mask mandates.

Education department financial documents provided to CNN by the Orange County School Board show that the Department transferred $877,851 to the eight districts on November 29.

The eight school districts are: Alachua County, Brevard County, Broward County, Miami-Dade, Duval County, Leon County, Orange County and Palm Beach County.

In October, the Florida Board of Education voted to penalize the eight school districts for imposing mask mandates that did not allow parents to choose to opt-out their children. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had signed an executive order that sought to curb school districts ability to impose Covid-19 mitigation strategies, like mask mandates.

The payments were first reported by the Florida Phoenix.

The Leon County and Orange County school districts confirmed they received the withheld funds from the Florida Department of Education but did not have any further comment.

Because the paychecks were withheld, two of the school districts — Alachua County and Broward County — applied for and received grant money from the US Department of Education’s Project to Support America’s Families and Educators program.

That program promises federal funds for school districts that are, “financially penalized,” by state education agencies for implementing Covid-19 mitigation strategies.

The US Department of Education filed a cease and desist complaint with the Florida Department of Education over funds being withheld from those two districts, saying that the state unlawfully — and explicitly — reduced the amount of state aid provided to them based on their receipt of federal funds.

At the time, Florida Department of Education spokesperson Jared Ochs told CNN in a statement that the federal government “is acting unlawfully and they have yet to respond to the substance of our prior response,” referencing an October 13 letter from Florida’s education commissioner.

Jackie Johnson, a spokesperson for Alachua County, told CNN they had finally received funds from the Florida Department of Education and had yet to cash the check they received from the federal government. Johnson said the district would be returning the funds to the federal government.

“We are glad to have been reimbursed by the state for the funding withheld,” Johnson told CNN.

“We also greatly appreciate U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and his department for their support of our efforts to limit the spread of COVID among students and staff.”

CNN reached out to the other five districts, the Florida Department of Education and the US Department of Education but did not immediately receive a response.

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