FDOE garnishes school board wages

The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) commissioner announced late Monday that the state has withheld funds from Alachua and Broward County school board members, defying last week’s court decision barring the state from enforcing the ban on mask mandates

“Each district has implemented a mandatory face mask policy that violates parental rights by not allowing a parent or legal guardian to opt-out their child, as required by Florida Department of Health Emergency Rule 64DER21-12,” the FDOE statement said. The withholding of funds will continue monthly until each school board complies with state law and rule.”

FDOE Commissioner Richard Corcoran maintained his previously held position on parental rights.

“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. What’s unacceptable is the politicians who have raised their right hands and pledged, under oath, to uphold the Constitution but are not doing so. Simply said, elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”

On Aug. 27 Judge John C. Cooper of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County sided in favor of a group of parents from Alachua, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Palm Beach counties when he ruled that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis overstepped his authority when he sought to block school districts from implementing student mask mandates. He said the state misinterpreted the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which makes allowance for compelling state interests.

Face masks are required for all staff and students in Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) unless a doctor signs off on an opt-out form.

School districts across the state have adopted similar mandates, including Duval, Palm Beach, Lee, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Sarasota, and now Orange County, which is requiring masks through October 30th.

According to ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson, the four board members who voted for the mask mandate earn a total of $161,148. The monthly garnish will be $13,429.

The U.S. Department of Education has offered support and notified school districts that they can use American Rescue Plan funds to pay fines or replace funding lost due to mask mandates. On a local level, the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners also offered support by exploring ways to cover the salaries of the Alachua County School Board (SBAC).

In a Tuesday morning statement ACPS Superintendent Carlee Simon said she is “very troubled” by the state’s action.

“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 has already ruled they had the legal right to do so,” she said. “They deserve praise, not penalties.”

Simon reported that ACPS is collaborating with other school districts to bring legal action.

“We have already begun working with our colleagues in other districts to take legal action,” she stated. “We believe this is a necessary step to ensure that Florida’s districts have the right to act in the best interests of those they serve.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. 

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