The Journal | By David Nagel | September 28, 2021
Alachua County Public Schools in Florida has received the first grant under the Biden administration’s Project to Support America’s Families and Educators (Project SAFE) program, which is designed to compensate schools that lose some portion of their funding as a result of COVID-19 policies that come into conflict with state policies.
The award, totaling $147,719, was specifically given to the School Board of Alachua County to compensate school board members whose monthly compensation was deducted from state funds for the district’s mask policy, which appears to have been in conflict with a state mandate. The district allows families to opt their student out of wearing masks with the approval of a doctor or nurse practitioner. The state mandate says parents can opt their students out of wearing a mask without such medical approval.
It’s unclear why Alachua has been so far the only recipient of a Project SAFE grant since the program was announced earlier this month. Alachua’s grant was announced in a press release from the United States Department of Education six days after Alachua’s application was filed.
Alachua County is a district troubled by racial disparities. The district has a high rate of disciplinary actions and referrals of students to police for prosecution for offenses like classroom disruptions, fighting and petty vandalism, with the vast majority of those disciplinary actions targeting black students. In a report on school-to-prison pipelines, the Florida ACLU reported that while black students make up only 34% of the district’s student population, they account for 73% of student arrests, 76% of police citations, 60% of expulsions and alternative placements and 72% of out-of-school suspensions in the 2017–2018 school year. Since the return to in-person instruction this year, disciplinary actions and police referrals appear to be continuing apace, with several expulsions and criminal charges already reported for vandalism potentially related to a TikTok challenge. Also in the last several days, the district has received a number of bomb threats (motivation unknown at this point), resulting in school closures.
Further information on Project SAFE can be found on the ed.gov Project SAFE portal.