Ethics panel: School board members embroiled in mask disputes can get federal money

(File photo via Hillsborough County Public Schools/September 2021)

Federal payments to cover the salaries of county school board members embroiled in disputes about school-mask requirements do not violate state gift or compensation laws, a draft advisory opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics says. 

Broward County School Board Chairwoman Rosalind Osgood requested the advisory opinion last month as the state Department of Education financially penalized the district because of a policy requiring students to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The financial penalties equaled the number of salaries of school board members. 

The U.S. Department of Education has stepped in and said it is providing more than $420,000 to Broward County to cover the lost state money. 

Osgood asked for an opinion about whether receiving the money would violate laws that place restrictions on compensation and gifts for public officials. The draft advisory opinion said receiving the federal money would not violate the laws. 

"In the facts presented, the only thing the school board members are receiving are their salaries," the draft opinion said. "The salaries of school board members are prescribed by law. We find that the public salaries of public officers or employees are not offered to influence them; public salaries are offered to compensate them for the performance of their official duties." 

The draft opinion, made public Wednesday, is scheduled to go before the commission during an Oct. 22 meeting.

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