GAINESVILLE (CBSMiami/AP/NSF) – Florida’s Alachua County School Board has received nearly $150,000 from President Joe Biden’s administration to make up for state pay cuts imposed over a board’s vote for a student anti-coronavirus mask mandate.

Alachua County school Superintendent Carlee Simon said in a news release Thursday the district has received $148,000 through a U.S. Department of Education grant program called Project SAFE, or Project to Support America’s Families and Educators.

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Simon says Alachua, where Gainesville and the University of Florida are located, is the first district in the nation to receive such a grant.

“We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them. We stand with the dedicated educators in Alachua and across the country doing the right thing to protect their school communities, and with today’s first-ever award under Project SAFE, we are further enabling educators to continue that critical work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a prepared statement.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials have begun cutting salaries paid to school board members in Alachua and Broward County school districts who voted to require masks for students. DeSantis favors allowing parents to decide whether their children wear face coverings and is in the midst of court battles over this broader issue.

In Alachua County, the pay reductions so far for four school board members who voted for the mask mandate amounted to $27,000, Simon said.

“With these grants, we’re making sure schools and communities across the country that are committed to safely returning to in-person learning know that we have their backs,” said Cardona.

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About a dozen school boards in Florida, including Miami-Dade and Broward counties, have voted to defy the state ban on mask mandates despite the DeSantis decision to withhold some of their funding.

DeSantis’ executive order on masks has spurred legal challenges. One lawsuit, filed by a group of parents, is awaiting a hearing at the 1st District Court of Appeal, after a Leon County circuit judge ruled that DeSantis overstepped his constitutional authority in the order.

While the federal government looks to pick up the tab for school districts getting dinged financially, the state Department of Health on Wednesday tightened a rule regarding masks in schools.

The Department of Health issued a revised rule that says opting out of mask requirements is “at the parent or legal guardian’s sole discretion.” That change is targeted at districts, such as Alachua, that have required doctors’ notes to opt out of mask mandates.

The Alachua school district plans to keep its student mask requirement in place regardless of the state’s updated rule.

“At this point, we are maintaining our current protocols,” according to district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson.

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