(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Education said it has awarded its first funding to a Florida school district that had state funds withheld because it mandated that students wear masks, going against the governor’s ban on such mandates.
The department has reimbursed the Alachua County school district nearly $148,000, the amount the state government withheld in August, the department and the school board said on Thursday.
Jackie Johnson, director of communications for the school district in Gainesville, said on Friday the state had withheld funding in August that was equivalent to the salaries of the four school board members who voted to mandate masks and other COVID safety protocols.
Johnson said the state withheld the same amount on Friday – and has told the district it would continue to do so on a monthly basis as long as the district is not in compliance with the governor’s ban on mask mandates.
The school board members have continued to receive their salaries, Johnson said. The funds the district receives from the federal government will be placed back into the district’s general fund.
Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in July issued an executive order barring school mask mandates. DeSantis has said parents should decide if their children wear masks.
Florida is one of several U.S. states where Republican governors have sought to prevent local governments and school districts from mandating masks, in what has become a highly politicized tussle over COVID-19 precautions.
Despite DeSantis’ ban on mandates, both Alachua and the Broward County district in metropolitan Miami went against the governor.
“We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a written statement.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by David Gregorio)