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Alachua County Public Schools first to receive reimbursement from federal government after board salaries stripped over mask requirement

The US Department of Education is reimbursing the district about $148,000 as part of its Project SAFE program.

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. — Alachua County's mask mandate will continue for at least three more weeks and Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon says it is the right decision.

"We are doing everything that we can to make sure that we allow instruction to happen," she explained to First Coast News.

What she doesn't support is what she calls the overreaching by Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose executive order earlier this summer makes masks optional for students across the state.

Some districts, including Alachua and Duval, mandated masks with a medical opt-out. 

"I think it is troubling and problematic when a governor decides that in Tallahassee he knows more about what's going on in our schools than we do," Simon said.

Four Alachua County School Board members were stripped of their salaries because of their vote to require masks.  But, the US Department of Education is coming to their aid by reimbursing them of their lost wages under a newly announced federal program for districts that are penalized for enforcing COVID-19 safety measures.

"I believe the board members very strongly feel that the safety of our students surpasses their salaries or their paychecks," Simon said.

Dr. Simon has support from her county's education association.  "This is not political.  This is not a power struggle with the governor. This is doing due diligence," said Alachua County Education Association President Carmen Ward.

The district has seen a decrease in the number of positive COVID cases among its students since the district required masks and Simon believes the county's mitigation efforts are working and says she won't be swayed by any legal action.

"I think they decided to put people first and that's where we are and I think they are proud of their work.  I am proud of their decision and their bravery," she said. 

We reached out to the Florida Department of Education for comment, but have not heard back.

We are also waiting on a response from Duval County Public Schools about any money it may have or could receive from the federal government over any lost funding because of its mask mandate.

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