Simon blasts sanctions as ‘exercise of futility’

Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Carlee Simon insisted the district is in compliance with mask rules and dismissed sanctions as futile in a Thursday letter to State Board of Education leaders.

“This exercise of futility is distracting the Board of Education and our board from doing the essential work of educating our community’s children,” Simon wrote in the letter addressed to Chair Tom Grady and Vice Chair Ben Gibson. “It is time to move forward and focus on priorities that matter for the future of our students.” 

The letter came a week after Simon appeared before the board to defend the district’s mask policy, which now includes a parental opt-out for high schoolers but not for elementary and middle schoolers. The board gave the district 48 hours to comply and issued an official order on Tuesday to the same effect. 

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The state began garnishing the wages of Alachua County School Board members in August, after the board approved a universal mask mandate in defiance of state rules. The new disciplinary process is in response to a new rule Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo issued on Sept. 22, his first full day on the job.

Last month the U.S. Department of Education awarded ACPS the first Project SAFE Grant in the country, which was aimed at replacing any lost funds due to COVID mitigation policies. 

In its Tuesday order, the State Board of Education moved to withhold funds equal to any Project SAFE Grant funds, in addition to the salaries of school board members, which total $201,435 out of an annual budget of $258 million. In her letter of response, Simon said the district has not used the federal funds. 

“If the District does draw from these funds, we will notify the Commissioner [Richard Corcoran], to allow you to continue your sanctions,” Simon wrote. 

As she has done in previous correspondence with the state, Simon maintained that the district is in compliance with rules that require schools to give parents the ability to opt their children out of mask mandates. While she did not detail her position in the letter, the district has argued that Hope scholarships allow students to transfer to another school over mask policies and meet the state’s goals in Alachua County. 

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