Florida Department of Education refunds school districts money withheld over mask mandates

State returns $27,500 to School District of Palm Beach County, report says
Palm Beach County students wear face masks in school during the 2021_22 academic year.jpg
Posted at 11:42 AM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 11:42:47-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County and seven other school districts have been refunded thousands of dollars withheld from them this year by the state following a dispute over mask mandates.

The much-publicized quarrel began this fall after school districts in predominately Democratic areas of Florida imposed mandatory mask requirements for students on campus.

This policy went against an executive order signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that blocked mask mandates in the state's public schools, leaving the decision up to parents on whether or not their child wore a mask at school.

The Florida Department of Education later withheld close to a million dollars from the school districts that rebuffed the executive order.

All of the districts later dropped their mask requirements this school year. Palm Beach County public school students were able to opt out of wearing face masks on Nov. 15.

The decision to withhold money from the defiant school districts was a largely ceremonial act given that some of the districts have annual budgets in the billions.

CNN reported Tuesday that the state's education department transferred $877,851 to the eight Florida school districts on Nov. 29.

Education Department Spokesman Jared Ochs released a statement on the return of the funds to the districts.

"The purpose of withholding funds from school districts was to ensure that all school districts comply with the law. Our position has always been that we would release withheld funds once districts demonstrated compliance. Approximately $878,000 was released to districts on Monday, November 29, 2021 – this amounts to approximately $309,000 in withheld salary and $568,000 in Project SAFE grant funds," Ochs said. "We are glad that these districts have finally recognized that parents have the right to make personal and private health care and educational decisions for their children. The Department will continue to make sure those rights are protected."

The state withheld $27,500 from the School District of Palm Beach County before it was refunded on Nov. 29, according to a report from the Palm Beach Post.