State withholds school board pay for two districts
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAP NEWS/WCJB) - On Friday, a circuit court judge ruled the Department of Education could not enforce a blanket ban on mask mandates in schools, but despite the ruling the Department is withholding paychecks of school board members in Alachua and Broward Counties.
The conflicting actions come down to some technical legal distinctions.
Friday marked an initial victory for parents suing the state over mask mandates.
“We feel it to be akin to a grand slam. We feel pretty good about it,” said Charles Gallagher, an attorney representing the parents in the case.
But on Monday, Alachua Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon was surprised to see the Department of Education announce it had withheld school board salaries in Broward and Alachua anyway.
“There’s a lot of unknowns and I think we’re at a place now where the Commissioner of Education owes, not just our school district, but the taxpayers explanations of what he is doing,” said Dr. Simon.
The DOE told us it technically withheld school board paychecks Thursday, prior to the judge’s ruling.
DOE Communications Director Jared Ochs also noted the ruling doesn’t take effect until the written order is filed, which still hadn’t happened as of Monday.
“Unlike several school districts in this state, our Department plans on continuing to follow the rule of law until such time as the Court issues its ruling,” said Ochs in an emailed statement.
Gallagher said he believes DOE’s position is on shaky legal grounds.
“I wouldn’t be using that argument, but it’s theirs to go ahead and use,” said Gallagher.
When the written order is officially filed the state plans to appeal, which will trigger an automatic hold on the lower court’s ruling.
The automatic stay will generate some legal jockeying, but in the end it’s likely the state will to continue withholding salaries for the time being.
“We’re going to be probably in this complicated legal place for a while,” said Dr. Simon.
In the meantime, the federal government has offered to supplement school board salaries.
The Governor’s Office disputes whether the federal government has the authority to pay school board members.
“The USDOE cannot pay the salaries of local officials because they aren’t federal employees. The ARP funding that the federal government already allocated to Florida isn’t under the control of the Biden Administration,” said DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw in an emailed statement. “USDOE Secretary Cardona is the same Biden Administration official, who just a few weeks ago said that Florida would be violating federal requirements by providing $1,000 bonuses to teachers and principals.”
Dr. Simon’s district is still figuring out what to do.
“Our board members were just paid earlier this week, so we have some time to look at what our options are,” said Dr. Simon.
School boards are soon expected to file a lawsuit of their own.
So far, 12 districts have defied the mask mandate ban.
In addition to Broward and Alachua, eight of the other districts were recently notified by DOE their school board salaries could also be at risk.
Full statement from Christian Pushaw, Press Secretary to the Governor:
“USDOE has suggested that American Rescue Plan funding already allocated to Florida could be used by districts to pay school board members who impose mask mandates that break Florida law by infringing on parents’ freedom to choose whether their own children wear masks to school. The USDOE cannot pay the salaries of local officials because they aren’t federal employees. The ARP funding that the federal government already allocated to Florida isn’t under the control of the Biden Administration. USDOE Secretary Cardona is the same Biden Administration official, who just a few weeks ago said that Florida would be violating federal requirements by providing $1,000 bonuses to teachers and principals. Now he wants to use education funding to pay the salaries of elected school board members, who don’t believe parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children. What we’re doing in Florida must be working, for Secretary Cardona to prioritize funding the salaries of politicians over students, parents, and teachers.”
Full statement from Jared Ochs, Director of Communications and External Affairs at DOE:
“Unlike several school districts in this state, our Department plans on continuing to follow the rule of law until such time as the Court issues its ruling, and subsequent to that ruling, we plan on immediately appealing this decision to the First DCA, from which we will seek to stay the ruling. We actually began withholding these funds last Thursday, based on the already lawfully executed orders of the State Board of Education. Of course, it’s ironic being asked such a question by the media when similar questions have seldom been directed to the several school districts that are operating in violation of written law and preventing children from a free and public education.”
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