U.S. Department of Education approves grant funding for school districts facing state punishment for mask mandates

The Project SAFE grant would go to school districts and local education agencies that had funding withheld for enacting mask mandates. (courtesy Adobe Stock)
The Project SAFE grant would go to school districts and local education agencies that had funding withheld for enacting mask mandates. (courtesy Adobe Stock)

The Project SAFE grant would go to school districts and local education agencies that had funding withheld for enacting mask mandates. (courtesy Adobe Stock)

The United States Department of Education announced Sept. 9 that it would launch a grant program to send funds to school districts that have had their state funding withheld or faced other punishments from their states for implementing COVID-19 mitigation measures in line with Center for Disease Control guidance.

The grant program will be called Project SAFE and will be funded using money from the School Safety National Activities program of the Every Student Succeeds Act, according to the Department’s news release.

The department said local school districts would receive notices to apply for the grants and they would be made “as expeditiously as possible and on an ongoing basis.” Local education agencies will receive grant awards directly.

Kate Johanns, the marketing and communications director of the nonprofit Association of Texas Professional Educators, said the organization was “not aware” of any districts that have had funding withheld in Texas currently.

Should that happen in Texas, we would support federal relief to make up for the loss of funding,” Johanns said.



The Texas Education Agency initially updated its health guidance Aug. 19 to state that Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest order banning mask mandates by public entities would not be enforced due to “ongoing litigation.” However on Sept. 17, the agency published updated guidance reaffirming that the order was in place, with no reference to litigation.

Abbott’s order, GA-38, went into effect July 29. On Aug. 19, the Texas Supreme Court in a separate case left in place a temporary restraining order on the GA-38 order that was initially issued by Travis County District Court Judge Jan Soifer, in response to a lawsuit from three Travis County parents.

Houston ISD’s board of trustees voted Aug. 12 to enact its own mask mandate, which remains in effect following the Travis County restraining order.

Advocacy groups Disability Rights Texas filed a federal lawsuit against Abbott and TEA Commissioner Mike Morath on Aug. 17, alleging that the ban on mask mandates puts children with disabilities at greater risk and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In Tennessee, school districts can choose to implement mask policies; however, an executive order signed by Gov. Bill Lee on Aug. 16 allows parents to have their students opt out of local mandates.

In Arizona, the state Legislature passed with its budget a stipulation that schools could not mandate masks. Gov. Doug Ducey later issued an executive order establishing a grant program for schools and districts that remained open to in-person instruction and followed all state laws, including not mandating masks.


Additional reporting by Maggie Quinlan, Darcy Sprague, Wendy Sturges and Tom Blodgett.

By Jishnu Nair

Reporter, North Houston Metro

Jishnu joined Community Impact Newspaper as a metro reporter in July 2021. Previously, he worked as a digital producer for a television station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and studied at Syracuse University's Newhouse School. Originally from New Jersey, Jishnu covers the North Houston metro area, including Tomball, Magnolia, Conroe and Montgomery, as well as the Woodlands and Lake Houston areas.



MOST RECENT

The Park and Recreation Board voted twice to deny a request to allow beer and wine to be sold in the area around Zilker Cafe. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Planning Commission turns down plan to sell beer, wine at Zilker Cafe

Eight commissioners voted in favor to deny the applicants request while two voted against the motion. Commissioner Awais Azhar abstained from voting.

Photo of Austin's skyline
Austin health authorities outline COVID-19 surge risks while eyeing possible shift to Stage 2

While Austin and Travis County remain under Stage 3 guidelines, hospitalizations have moved into possible Stage 2 territory.

Giselle Copa, an Austin Community College pharmacy student, prepares a COVID-19 vaccine for administration. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
At least 81% of Austin ISD staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, per district data

After the district had staff sign up for bonuses only available to fully vaccinated employees, the district can count its vaccinated employees at over 8,000.

"The Dude" is the signature burger at Lebowski's Grill. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Lebowski's Grill upends expectations in Austin; first Houston-area Costco Business Center opens in Stafford and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 26.

More than 35,000 passengers traveled through the airport on Oct. 25, the Monday following the 2021 F1 U.S. Grand Prix. (Benton Graham/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport sees busiest day ever following 2021 Formula One U.S. Grand Prix

The new record topped the previous busiest day by more than 3,000 passengers.

City, county and community leaders gathered Oct. 21 to share an update on funding of the $515 million Summit Plan aimed at housing thousands of residents. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin leaders outline $515M homelessness spending plan with more than 75% of funding in place

Officials provided an update on a $515 million plan to house thousands of people experiencing homelessness and provide related social services Oct. 21.

The plan calls for traffic control methods to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. (Courtesy Living Streets)
Austin City Council paves way for more play, exercise on neighborhood streets

The program aims to make it safer to use neighborhood streets for community events.

Photo of the Komé storefront
Komé Sushi Kitchen celebrates 10 years, and more Austin business milestones

The locally-owned business serves family-style Japanese comfort food.

New statewide maps will go into effect Jan. 18, 2022. (Community Impact Newspaper Staff)
Gov. Abbott approves new voting maps for state legislature, Congress, school districts for next decade

The maps will go into effect Jan. 18, 2022, after the state legislature passed them during a 30-day special session.

The committee will provide input on Capital Metro's expanded public safety department to the transit agency's board of directors.  (Courtesy Capital Metro)
Capital Metro board approves charter for public safety advisory committee

The approval comes after the establishment of a transit police force met resistance during the August meeting.