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The State Board of Education will consider a cease-and-desist complaint filed by federal education

The state imposed financial penalties on school districts that had student mask mandates.
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The state imposed financial penalties on school districts that had student mask mandates.

The State Board of Education has scheduled a meeting next week to consider a U.S. Department of Education complaint seeking to prevent Florida from withholding funds from school districts that received federal money to cover school board members’ salaries.

The cease-and-desist complaint was filed Oct. 28 in the department’s Office of Administrative Law Judges. It stems from the state imposing financial penalties on school districts that required students to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The penalties target amounts of money equal to school board members’ salaries.

Offsetting the penalties, the U.S. Department of Education on Sept. 23 awarded $150,000 to Alachua County to cover the salaries of four school board members, and days later provided $420,000 to backfill salaries for eight Broward County board members.

But Florida officials in October decided to withhold state money to the districts in amounts equal to any federal funding they receive.

In the complaint, the federal education department wrote that it was notified by Alachua and Broward school officials that the Florida Department of Education “withheld from each (district) monthly state education aid” in the amounts of the federal funding.

“This action taken by the (Florida) department comes after we made repeated requests to work together and protect students, educators, and school communities. We believe Florida’s actions have violated federal law by reducing state funds based on the receipt by districts of federal funds,” the federal department wrote in a statement.

The State Board of Education has scheduled a Nov. 16 meeting to consider the complaint, according to a notice published Tuesday in the Florida Administrative Register.

The state board approved imposing financial penalties on districts, citing a Florida Department of Health rule that said parents or guardians should have “sole discretion” to opt students out of mask requirements.