Officials representing Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) will have to defend the district’s mask policy on two fronts this week.
Tuesday morning ACPS spokesperson Jackie Johnson announced that the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee has given ACPS attorneys until Friday to respond a petition that demands an end to mandatory masking and what it calls the “byzantine quarantine policy” that does not align with state rules.
Separately, Johnson reported that the State Board of Education (SBOE) has summoned ACPS Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon and 10 other superintendents to speak by phone at its meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday.
“The agenda and related documents were emailed to the Superintendent and Board Chair Dr. Leanetta McNealy last night,” Johnson wrote in an emailed statement, noting that Simon does intend to appear at the meeting.
The meeting agenda outlines action items that include “consideration of probable cause for noncompliance” with the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) emergency rule new Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo issued Sept. 22.
Simon appeared before the SBOE in August to defend the district’s actions in response to the first FDOH rule, issued by former Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees. Now that process is starting over for Simon and 10 other superintendents whose districts have similar policies.
On Monday Florida Department of Education (FDOE) Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a memo to ACPS saying its policy does not align with state requirements in either of the emergency rules.
“Based upon the following memorandum, I find there is probable cause that the Alachua County School Board (ACSB) acted contrary to the law by requiring students to wear a mask or face covering unless certain exceptions apply, such as a medical certification,” reads the document, which is posted online. “Specifically, ACSB’s policy violated the provisions of Rule 64DER21-12 and continues to violate Rule 64DER21-15, Protocols for Controlling COVID-19 in School Settings.”
Corcoran said the district has no choice but to comply.
“Every school board member and every school superintendent has a duty to comply with the law, whether they agree with it or not,” Corcoran wrote. “Disagreement with the protocols found in 64DER21-15 simply does not provide a school district with a basis to violate the rule, be it through medical requirements, attempts to tie mask requirements to fluctuating positivity rates, or through any other means.”
Corcoran has recommended that the State Board of Education enforce the emergency rule and “protect the right of parents to make both health and educational decisions on behalf of their children.”
At the end of August the state began garnishing the wages of school board members who voted for the district’s mask mandate. In response, on Sept. 23 the U.S. Department of Education awarded ACPS the first Project SAFE grant in the country to cover withheld funds.
Now, Corcoran wants the SBOE to factor in those federal funds in its withholding.
“Should the State Board adopt my recommendation, I request that it consider the sanction of withholding state funds in an amount equal to 1/12 of all school board members’ salaries, as well as withholding state funds in an amount equal to any federal grant funds awarded to the ACSB for its noncompliance with Emergency Rule 64DER21-15,” Corcoran wrote.
The School Board of Alachua County is scheduled to meet Tuesday night and will consider its soon-to-expire masking policy.
“The district’s current masking policy remains in place and is currently set to end on October 19,” Johnson said. “The policy is on the agenda for tonight’s regularly scheduled School Board meeting at 6 p.m., which is the last regular Board meeting before October 19.”