A 48-hour compliance deadline from the state passed Sunday with Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) maintaining its mandatory mask requirement for students.
“Due to the highly contagious nature of this virus, there is a high risk that more students and staff will have to be sent home due to illness or exposure,” Superintendent Carlee Simon wrote in a Sunday letter to Tom Grady and Ben Gibson, the respective chair and vice chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). “Like you, we are obligated to provide a safe and secure public education to all students. Universally masking is the most effective strategy we currently have, besides vaccination, to meet this obligation.”
Simon’s letter came two days after Grady and Gibson issued an order stating the SBOE had determined that the “School Board of Alachua County’s requirement for medical documentation to opt-out of masking does not comply” with the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) emergency rule that permits parents and guardians to opt out of face coverings for any reason.
They ordered Simon to report back within 48 hours on how the district would come into compliance with the rule or face withholding of funds equal to the salaries of the four Alachua County School Board members who voted for the mandate.
In her response letter, Simon argued—as she did at a SBOE hearing last week—that the district is in compliance with the recent FDOH emergency order. While Simon did not lay out her specific arguments in the Sunday letter, at Tuesday’s hearing she said the district’s use of Hope scholarships to transfer children who do not want to wear masks meets the state’s requirements and keeps school doors open.
“The parents of Alachua County have placed their trust in us to care of their children,” Simon wrote Sunday. “Protecting each other with universal masking will help us keep our students in the classroom and out of the hospital.”
Simon noted the district currently has 273 COVID-positive student cases and 63 adult cases after nine days of in-person instruction. According to the ACPS COVID-19 dashboard, 1,156 students are in quarantine as the third week of school is set to begin Monday.
As requested in Friday’s order, Simon provided the salary numbers for possible withholding. School board members make $40,287 annually, equating to a monthly withholding of $13,429. She confirmed the district would “not permit the reduction of funds from student services or teacher pay,” in compliance with Friday’s order.