The Federal Department of Education (DOE) continues to monitor the Florida Department of Education and its allocation of federal funds to Local Education Agencies (LEAs) like the Alachua County Public School (ACPS) district.
On Thursday, Ian Rosenblum, deputy assistant secretary for the DOE, sent a letter to Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran to inform him that certain American Rescue Plan funds provided by the federal government must be handed over to LEAs in accordance with federal guidelines.
In the letter, Rosenblum refers to Florida’s application for the money which LEAs must complete. The application requires LEAs to assure Florida that the LEAs will follow state imposed regulation, including the Florida Department of Health Rule 64DER21-15.
Rosenblum said any requirements, outside the federal government’s own, for LEAs to access funds are unlawful.
“The letter reminds the Commissioner that states must provide funds to LEAs under the
ARP ESSER program, and that imposing extra-statutory eligibility requirements may
unlawfully preclude LEAs – and therefore students – from receiving these funds,” Rosenblum said in the letter.
Florida’s Health Rule―64DER21-15―requires school districts to allow parents to opt their children out of mandatory masking.
The rule has brought a lot of scrutiny to the ACPS, which filed a lawsuit against the rule in September along with other Florida districts.
In a press release on Thursday, Jackie Johnson, spokesperson for SBAC, said the district expects a ruling on that lawsuit Friday.
Since August, the Florida Department of Education has imposed sanctions against ACPS that have cut its state funding because of the mandatory masking.
Last week, the DOE issued a cease and desist order against the state for withholding funds through Project SAFE, a different source of federal funding intended for local organizations.
The order informed the Florida Department of Education of a hearing scheduled for Dec. 10 that will determine the outcome.
On Tuesday, the School Board of Alachua County voted to continue mandatory masking in schools until Dec. 6. Then, parents can choose to opt their children out of masks starting on Dec. 7.
But parents in Alachua County moved forward with litigation against the school district over the mask policy this week. That lawsuit has been referred to the circuit courts in Florida.