Classroom. Credit: Pixabay.
The Leon County School District is the seventh in Florida to impose a mask mandate for schoolchildren, with exceptions only with documented medical evidence that it would harm students, in defiance of policy established by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Superintendent Rocky Hanna made the announcement Sunday in a live video posted on the district’s Facebook page. The new policy applies to Pre-K through grade eight, or kids too young to qualify for vaccinations, and takes effect on Monday, he said.
He indicated he made the decision on his own initiative, without involving the school board. That could shield its members from the punishment the DeSantis-controlled State School Board inflicted on Alachua and Broward counties when their school boards voted to take the same step — withholding of state school money in amounts equal to the officials’ pay checks.
DeSantis claims that school boards taking this step — also including Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Sarasota — are violating a state Department of Health emergency regulation and a state law called the Parent’s Bill of Rights, which gives parent control over medical decisions for their children.
Hanna acknowledged the potential consequences for himself.
“Governor, I do have an obligation to uphold the laws of the state of Florida. I have a greater obligation, however, to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the children in Tallahassee and Leon County,” Hanna said.
“Look, I don’t believe that masks are necessarily the end-all be-all. But we know they make a difference. The vast majority of health-care experts tell us they make a difference,” he said.
“I am in total favor of individual rights and freedoms and the rights of parents. However, I strongly believe that my rights end when they infringe on the rights of others,” he continued. “Your rights end when that child’s rights are infringed on.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend universal indoor masking by all students aged 2 and older, staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, mainly to protect others from a person who may unknowingly be infected and contagious. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends masking in schools.
According to Hanna, during the first seven days of classes last week the district counted more than 245 positive cases, representing one-third of the total cases in all of last year. On Tuesday through Friday, it recorded average daily positive tests in the mid-40s. The single-day high last year was 19. As of Friday, more than 900 students were in quarantine.
“The numbers speak for themselves. It’s time to make a change,” Hanna said.
“The goal is to keep our schools open. However, if we continue down this path, I’m afraid we may have to look at other options, and the last thing I want to do is close our schools.”
To Gov. DeSantis, Hanna said: “I ask you, governor, to please reconsider your position on this issue and to give local control back to school districts to do what’s best for the children in our community.”
He added: “Leaders should never allow pride or politics to cloud their better judgment. It is never too late to do the right thing.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.