SBAC swears in new member, talks litigation

Mildred Russell marked her first vote on the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) by dissenting against the other four members in the adoption of a resolution to seek outside legal counsel to challenge the Florida Department of Health’s Emergency Rule 64DER21-12.

SBAC attorney David Delaney said the vote gives permission to Superintendent Carlee Simon to begin conversations and see how SBAC should continue with its litigation.

The resolution passed 4-1 with no board member comment except for Russell asking if SBAC would join Broward County in the litigation.

Delaney said the law firm that currently serves Broward County has offered its services to the Alachua school district as well, but the question of who represents the district now belongs to Simon.

In the past 24 hours, new letters have passed between Florida Board of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and Simon.

Corcoran sent a letter Wednesday night stating that Simon is obligated to report any “enforcement of the unlawful face covering mandate policy against a student.”

The state board included this requirement in a letter sent Aug. 20 giving SBAC 48 hours to void the mask mandate or face financial repercussions. Simon responded the same day that the school district would keep its mandate.

The 48 hours expired Sunday night, and now Corcoran says Simon must report enforcement of the “unlawful” face covering mandate daily by 5 p.m. or further state funds could be withdrawn.

The letter defined enforcement of the mandate as a student being sent home, reassigned, disciplined, suspended, isolated, stigmatized, warned or harassed for not abiding by SBAC’s mask mandate.

Simon responded Thursday night after the SBAC meeting.

“Given that the School Board of Alachua County does not have an unlawful face covering mandate policy, we do not have anything to report,” Simon said in the letter.

Just before the meeting in Bo Diddley Plaza, Judge Robert Groeb of the Eighth Circuit Court swore Russell into the empty District 2 seat. Gov. Ron DeSantis nominated her to the position on Aug. 18.

“I hope you will all support all of the school board members as we tackle the issues that are before us,” Russell said at her swearing in. “I appreciate the community support and I appreciate you all being here.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared the District 2 seat vacant in June after news broke that Diyonne McGraw, the former District 2 board member, lived outside of her district.

Russell spoke to Mainstreet Daily News for a Q&A the day of her appointment, saying she had yet to form an opinion on the mask issue.

“Once I’ve been part of the conversation going forward, I’ll hear from all sides and form my own conclusions,” Russell said in that interview.

At her first meeting, little conversation occurred. Five public commenters spoke before the board member’s discussion. But that discussion lasted less than a minute, just enough time for Russell’s question and Delaney’s response.

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