The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) stepped into the ongoing dispute between the School Board of Alachua and Broward counties and the Florida Department of Education on Thursday, issuing a cease and desist order against the state.
In the document, the DOE claims Florida has “explicitly” and “unlawfully” reduced funding to Alachua County Public Schools based on the amount of federal funding the district has received.
“It has done so as part of a broader effort to deter those districts from implementing practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” the document said.
The DOE said such a fund reduction based on federal aid violates the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) and seeks to fix the problem through the cease and desist order.
The order, issued with the Office of Administrative Law Judges, notifies the Florida Department of Education of a hearing scheduled for Dec. 10 that will determine the outcome.
On Monday, the DOE issued a notice to Florida that it is out of compliance with federal law by withholding the funds, but the state had yet to issue a dollar amount to Alachua or Broward counties.
On Tuesday, the state released the number―$147,719 for Alachua―which counters the amount awarded to the school district by Project SAFE.
According to the DOE cease and desist document, officials in Alachua and Broward counties notified the federal government Wednesday about the withholdings.
Alachua County was the first in the country to receive funds through the Project SAFE in September after Florida officials announced they would cut back funding because of the county’s COVID-19 policies.
The district’s COVID-19 policies required a face mask unless a student had a medical opt out, but the district refused to allow parents to opt their children out of the face mask mandate.