School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) member Dr. Gunnar Paulson said it was a mistake for the district to ignore a request from the state commissioner of education for daily reports of students who face consequences for not wearing face masks.
Paulson’s comments came during a short SBAC meeting on Tuesday, which lasted just 45 minutes and included approval of previous meeting minutes, the appointment of a new ESchool principal, Dr. Mallory Becker, and board member comments.
Last month SBAC approved a two-week mask mandate for students and later extended it for eight more weeks. State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran promptly issued a letter announcing an investigation, threatening to withhold the salaries of school board members, and directing the superintendent to provide daily reports on students who were disciplined for not wearing mask masks.
In correspondence with the state, Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon has maintained the district is in compliance with state rules and therefore had nothing to report.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, Paulson—SBAC’s longest-serving member—told the board he thought ACPS should follow the lead of the Broward County School Board, which is providing the state the daily reports it requested. He then read a statement that he said showed the spirit of cooperation, even while maintaining a face mask mandate with only a medical opt out.
“When the [commissioner] of education asks for something, we should give it,” Paulson said. “I know some kids have been sent home. I think we are obligated [to report it]. We should work together, do exactly what Broward is doing.
Paulson said ACPS can keep students safe while still respecting the office of the department of education.
Recently appointed board member Mildred Russell agreed with Paulson, but board members Tina Certain, Rob Hyatt and Leanetta McNealy stood by Simon’s response to the education commissioner.
“I respect the position of the commissioner,” McNealy said. “It’s a two-way street. Sometimes people in authority forget it’s a two-way street.”
Simon said she appreciated the concerns of the board but district school leaders are too busy trying to navigate leading their schools and COVID-19 to create a daily report.
The commissioner has made a request, but what he has the authority to do is request periodic reports, Simon said.
“But he is asking for daily reports by 5 p.m.,” she said.
Simon said she had concerns that creating reports with student information could violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
“The scale and scope and operational needs in order to do this every day,” Simon said. “I believe it’s unreasonable.”