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Federal grant program will reimburse districts penalized for violating bans on mask mandates

Sept. 10, 2021
Funds from the U.S. Department of Education's Project SAFE program will restore money withheld by states after a district has imposed a mask mandate or other Covid prevention strategies.

The U.S. Department of Education is creating a grant program that will cover any fines or withholding of funds that school districts face because of their mask policies.

The department says in a news release that the Project SAFE initiative will "provide additional funding to school districts that have funds withheld by their state or are otherwise financially penalized for implementing strategies to prevent the spread of Covid-19."

School districts will be able to apply for grants that will allow them to restore funding withheld by state leaders when a district carried out strategies to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in schools. This funding will help districts improve student safety and well-being by advancing strategies to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in schools.

At the behest of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Department of Education has withheld funds from some districts who defied the governor's order barring school systems from imposing mask mandates.

Last month, a Florida judge overturned DeSantis’ mask mandate ban for schools, but on Friday, a state appeals court panel put a hold on the lower court ruling while the case works its way through the courts.

That means the state of Florida can continue to punish school officials who impose mask mandates without a parent opt-out, The Miami Herald reports.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says the grant program will help protect districts who are working to make their campuses safe for the return of students.

"We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them," Cardona says. "We stand with the dedicated educators doing the right thing to protect their school communities, and this program will allow them to continue that critical work of keeping students safe."

In addition to the new grant program, President Biden' is calling on all states to adopt vaccine mandates for all school employees, encouraging schools to use American Rescue Plan and other federal funds to regularly test students and school staff for Covid-19, and using the Department of Education's full legal authority to protect students' access to in-person instruction.

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