The administration of President Joe Biden has rhetorically pushed Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis aside to bring support to teachers in his state. After state authorities in Florida opted to retaliate against school mask mandates by withholding funds from certain local school districts equaling the salaries of local school board members, the Biden administration has now stepped in to cover the losses for Alachua County, Florida, which is one of the counties with a mandate to wear face masks in schools. Even as Florida recently suffered through one of the worst COVID-19 surges in the nation, DeSantis stood by his opposition to mask mandates in schools.
Feds award Alachua County school district a nearly $148,000 grant to make up for state money withheld because district requires masks. USDOE says @AlachuaSchools is first district in nation to get such a payment.
— Leslie Postal (@lesliepostal) September 23, 2021
Specifically, approximately $148,000 from the federal government’s “Project SAFE” grant program has been provided to Alachua County leaders. (“Project SAFE” is an abbreviation for the Project to Support America’s Families and Educators grant program.) U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona commented as follows on Thursday:
‘We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them. We stand with the dedicated educators in Alachua and across the country doing the right thing to protect their school communities, and with today’s first-ever award under Project SAFE, we are further enabling educators to continue that critical work. With these grants, we’re making sure schools and communities across the country that are committed to safely returning to in-person learning know that we have their backs.’
Cardona also commented as follows:
‘I commend Alachua for protecting its students and educators, and I look forward to working with them to provide students their best year yet. Every student across the country deserves the opportunity to return to school in-person safely this fall, and every family should be confident that their school is implementing policies that keep their children safe.’
In addition to the Project SAFE program, school districts can also use funds from the American Rescue Plan — the COVID-19 relief package signed into law by President Biden earlier this year — to cover costs related to financial penalties such as those imposed in Florida. Now, besides the Biden administration’s provision of federal funds to school officials in Alachua County, a civil rights office within the federal Department of Education also recently launched an investigation of DeSantis’s policy banning school mask mandates, which some local officials have opted to challenge and/or defy. The idea behind that investigation is that the policy, like policies against school mask mandates elsewhere, may violate the civil rights of medically vulnerable children who can only safely attend school in current circumstances with mask-wearing requirements enforced.