Rep. Castor Statement on U.S. Department of Education Support for Florida Students and Educators in Face of Penalties and Retribution by Governor
New Grant Program to Provide Funding to School Districts Being Penalized for Implementing COVID Safety Measures
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (FL14) released the following statement regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s (U.S. ED) Office for Civil Rights’ investigation into whether the Florida Department of Education may be preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the needs of students with disabilities as a result of Florida’s mask opt-out policy in public schools. This week, the U.S. ED also announced Project SAFE (Supporting America's Families and Educators), a grant initiative to provide additional funding to school districts, including Hillsborough County, that have funds withheld by their state or are otherwise financially penalized for implementing strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, such as universal indoor masking.
“Keeping our children and educators safe in the middle of the Covid19 pandemic is paramount. The American Academy of Pediatrics, public health experts in Florida as well as the CDC recommend universal masking in K-12 schools, yet Gov. DeSantis is failing our students and our state by exacting retribution on educators and fighting in the courts to prevent local school boards from taking steps to keep kids and educators safe. Health experts have advised that Gov. DeSantis’s actions could lead to higher cases of transmission in the classroom as well as keep higher-risk students with disabilities out of the physical classroom for another schoolyear – in opposition to a federal civil rights law. The governor’s misguided actions against health protocols in schools comes as August marks our state’s deadliest month of the pandemic with over 5,700 deaths.
“Instead of fighting local educators in court, Gov. DeSantis should be prioritizing getting out the billions in federal Covid19 relief funding, that by law were mandated to be sent to local school districts months ago, so that we can safeguard all of our students and educators’ health. While the governor focuses on punishing school districts that are prioritizing safety, U.S. ED’s Project SAFE will provide much-needed funds to keep our schools running, our children safe and our incredible teachers and faculty on the job. I’m grateful to President Biden for standing up for our students and educators. This is a critical, all-hands-on-deck moment for all of us to listen to our public health professionals and our pediatricians.”
The full letter can be read here.