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State Board of Education issues order withholding school board members’ salaries, Simon responds

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

The Florida State Board of Education (BOE), in an order that formalizes the findings in the October 7 BOE meeting, has notified the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) that it has 48 hours from receipt of the order to document compliance with the state’s emergency rules regarding parental opt-out of masks in schools and quarantine policies. If the school board does not document compliance by then, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) is ordered to begin withholding funds, on a monthly basis, in an amount equal to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of the school board “as an initial step.” The school district “may not permit the reduction of funds based upon this order to impact student services or teacher pay.”

FDOE is also ordered to withhold state funds “until the School Board of Alachua County demonstrates compliance with the law” in an amount equal to federal Project SAFE Grant funds or any successor grants “awarded to the School District of Alachua County for its noncompliance with Emergency Rule 64DER21-15.”

The Commissioner of Education is ordered to monitor and report to the BOE on SBAC’s compliance with the Emergency Rule and the order and periodically provide recommendations to the BOE.

Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon released her response today, reiterating to BOE Chair Tom Grady and Vice Chair Ben Gibson that “We have documented compliance with the laws enacted by the Florida Legislature and the rules of your State Board in our letters to Commissioner Corcoran on August 10, 2021, and September 24, 2021 and during the State Board of Education meetings on August 17, 2021 and October 7, 2021. We have also documented compliance with the Department of Health Emergency Rule 64DER21-15 as requested.”

The letter states that each board member has an annual compensation of $40,287, so the monthly withholding “threatened by the state” is $16,786.25. The letter says the district has “not yet drawn down any funds from the federal… grant program… If the District does draw from these funds, we will notify the Commissioner, to allow you to continue your sanctions.”

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The letter concludes: “Like you, our board is obligated to provide a safe and secure public education to all students. Universally masking is the most effective strategy we currently have, besides vaccination, to meet this obligation. This exercise of futility is distracting the Board of Education and our board from doing the essential work of educating our community’s children. It is time to move forward and focus on priorities that matter for the future of our students.”

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