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Superintendent Simon asks for an extension to respond to FLDOE request that the district comply with rules

Superintendent Simon

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter to Alachua County Public Schools on September 23, requesting a written response by 5:00 p.m. on September 24 “documenting how your district is complying with that portion of the Department of Health’s Emergency Rules 64DER21-15, that continues to give parents or legal guardians the sole discretion to opt a student out from a mask or face covering mandate.”

Corcoran said that if the district does not document full compliance, he will recommend that the Department of Education withhold funds for the salaries of all members of the school board, “as well as other sanctions authorized by law.”

The letter advised the district of the new mask and quarantine rules from the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) and provided the district with “one more opportunity to come into compliance with the requirements established by the Department of Health.”

In response, Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon sent a letter on September 24 stating that “we continue to be concerned with the risk that the spread of COVID-19, particularly the highly contagious Delta variant, poses to the students and staff in Alachua County Public Schools.” Simon said they are “not yet in a position to safely lift the mask mandate that we currently have in place.” She also said that the mask mandate, which expires on October 19, was put in place by the school board, so the next opportunity for a vote on that would be the next meeting on October 5. She thus asked for an extension for a response until October 6.

Simon also said that the district would seek the input of local experts before changing any rules and that those experts would be asked to attend the October 5 meeting. She added, “The CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”

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Simon said she continues to be concerned about “the potential loss of staff and students due to the reduction in COVID-19 mitigation strategies” and that she wanted more information about support that FLDOE had offered to the district: “We would like to know specifically what supports you are able to offer us as we will be unable to sustain our basic operations if we have staff resign over this issue. Furthermore, we are concerned about families that want a mask mandate and will remove their students from school prior to FTE week in October 2021.”

Simon said they continue to make use of the Hope Scholarship “as a parent opt-out,” but she didn’t address the current shortage of available seats in local private schools.

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