Are ESSER funds dependent on mask mandates? |

Are ESSER funds dependent on mask mandates?

Debunking federal pandemic funding’s impact on mask wearing decisions

Anti-mask protesters show signs to traffic on Railroad Avenue from Heinze Park in Rifle on Sept. 27.
Rich Allen / Post Independent

As demonstrators spoke and marched on Garfield School District Re-2’s headquarters Sept. 27 in protest of a newly implemented mask mandate, they claimed several reasons for their opposition.

Among them was an idea that the school stands to lose access to federal funding if it does not enforce mask mandates. The American Rescue Plan includes the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which was created to award schools money to address in-person safety and increase accessibility to education during the pandemic.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act allotted $2.2 trillion nationally in pandemic relief. Re-2 Director of Communications Theresa Hamilton said the CARES Act is the one the district has heard the most about since instituting the mask mandate.

“The allegation is that because we received CARES money, or extra money, that there is a requirement within those grants that we have to mask kids,” Hamilton said. “That just isn’t the case.”

Hamilton said that the only requirement is that the district make assurances that it will spend the money as directed and follow the law at the local, state and federal levels.

There have been three different acts allocating funds under ESSER: the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Response & Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan release of funds, signed into law in March.

The funds can be spent on things that make school more accessible and equitable for students and improve safety during pandemic times. This means improving school facilities, building up remote learning infrastructure and more.

Roaring Fork School District spent a portion of its allocation on new school buses. Staff, too, indicated that they were not beholden to mask mandates to utilize their funding.

“There is no connection between ESSER fund eligibility and a school’s health and safety protocols, including masking,” Roaring Fork School District Public Information Officer Kelsy Been said.

In Craig, Moffat County School District is not currently requiring masks in any of its schools — though that sentiment may be changing, according to the Craig Daily Press — but is still using the third rollout of funds to pay the salaries of teachers, according to minutes from the school district’s Board of Education meeting in June. Moffat County School District declined immediate comment for this story.

Hamilton reiterated that the decision to move to mask mandates just over a month into the school year was made in the interest of student and employee health. The school has had 24 positive cases that resulted in quarantine, but “around three times that many” more within the district that occurred while the students were out of school, she said.

The district reportedly did not institute a mask mandate at the beginning of the year due to “internal logistics,” but decided that maintaining in-person learning was the priority.

“Garfield Re-2 School District is implementing these protocols to keep kids in front of their teachers, learning in-person,” Hamilton said.

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