Listed below are notes from the July 13th Leon County School Board meeting.
Tensions were high during the Tuesday evening Leon County School Board (LCSB) meeting, as a large assembly of engaged citizens gathered in support of and against having a mask optional policy for the 2021-2022 school year.
Many speakers cited data regarding the hazards of children wearing masks for long periods of time, as well as constitutional rights and rights to medical privacy regarding vaccinations. Some speakers became emotional when they spoke of their concerns sending their children back to school without masks.
Chair Georgia Bowen made remarks to the public speakers, stating she is grateful for their participation in the meeting and sharing their thoughts. She said the Board must make difficult decisions and their priority is the safety of the children.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Alan Cox spoke regarding the plan for dealing with COVID-19 going forward for the upcoming school year. He stated they will continue to follow the current plan, involving training of staff, continuing with contract tracing, and quarantining students and staff as needed.
According to what data is available, Dr. Cox explained that the vaccination rate of Leon County Schools staff, is around 7 to 8 out of every 10 employees.
Dr. Cox further discussed that during the Monday night agenda review, the Board and Superintendent plan to continue the mask optional policy. As well as begin an aggressive campaign to encourage staff and families to have the vaccination.
Superintendent Rocky Hanna said he did not feel comfortable with the campaign for vaccinations, due to his personal experiences and he does not want to endorse it. He stated getting the vaccine or deciding not to is a personal decision. He is in favor of the mask optional policy.
The Board was split in their decision to move ahead with the vaccination campaign, but the motion was carried forward with a vote of 3-2. Vice-Chair Darryl Jones, Chair Georgia Bowen, and Rosanne Wood were in favor of the campaign, and Alva Striplin and DeeDee Rasmussen were against.
Board member Rosanne Wood remarked that the Board and the Superintendent have bent over backwards to accommodate those who do not want their child to wear a mask. However, Wood said the Board has not provide options for those who worry about sending their children to school without a mask. She stated she has made many suggestions and she is requesting the Superintendent and the Board to work harder for those who are pleading for the use of masks.
In response to Wood’s remarks, Hanna explained that he read a great deal of data which led him to make the decision about a mask optional policy. He contends there are approximately 21,000 children in Leon County between the ages of 5-11. The data from the health department shows that there were zero hospitalization of that age group since the pandemic began. He continued, there are approximately 42,000 students between the ages of 5-18. In that age group, there were only 5 cases of hospitalization, and 0 deaths.
The Board approved the referral for the appeal of suspension of Principal Joe Burgess to the Department Of Administrative Hearings (DOAH).
Superintendent Hanna disclosed that he received information several weeks ago about “possible wrongdoing” at Lawton Chiles High. He stated he initiated an investigation and brought on an external council to review the matter. Hanna has recommended a 2-week suspension, without pay, and a formal reprimand to Principal Joe Burgess. Principal Burgess has requested an appeal and the matter will now be heard by the DOAH, who will make a recommendation whether to uphold the suspension and reprimand.
Vice-Chair Jones wants to discuss, in future meetings, the optimizing of pathways to college and trade schools for high school students. He stated, in other counties there are programs in place to help students graduate high school, having already completed or nearly complete their Associates of Arts degree.
He also wants to be sure to include trade certificates in these efforts, as there is a critical shortage in the trade industries. He maintained that it is important that “our students are ready to leave our high schools, prepared to go to college or into a career.”