One day before school was set to start, Superintendent Rocky Hanna, citing a misreading of a new state rule, changed his decision on mask mandates for school children and now will allow a parental opt-out.
The issue over masks was yet again front and center at the Leon County School Board meeting on Tuesday night. TR has followed the controversy for many weeks.
During the meeting, Superintendent Rocky Hanna discussed his actions in the early summer, when he relaxed the mask mandate, making masks optional, for Leon County Schools. He stated as the number in positive COVID-19 cases decreased he believed it was a reasonable choice.
However, over the past two to three weeks as COIVD cases have been on the rise and there has been an increase in cases of children being hospitalized due to the virus, Hanna has since reversed his mask optional decision.
Last week Hanna sent Governor Ron DeSantis a letter requesting the autonomy for school districts to implement mask mandates as needed per their community. Hanna addressed in the letter the new COVID variant, the increase in local hospitalizations due to the virus, as well as the fact that classrooms will be denser this school year and socially distancing children will be more difficult.
Hanna stated, “I’m asking you to allow us the flexibility and the autonomy to make the decisions for our schools that best fit our local data and information in Leon County. At this time, we would like to implement a temporary mask requirement in grades Pre-K—8, in order to help reduce the community positivity rate.” During the meeting the Superintendent stated he did not receive a response from DeSantis regarding the letter.
Later that week, Friday, August 6, 2021, the Department of Health approved a new rule which requires school mask mandates to allow parents to opt out of the requirement. Following the agency’s approval of the new rule, various school districts announced mask policies that include an opt-out provision.
Hanna asserted on Tuesday night that he had misinterpreted the new rule, believing a signed medical waiver was required by parents to opt out of face coverings for their child. Therefore, he implemented this in the new mask protocol.
Subsequently, Superintendent Rocky Hanna and Chair Joy Bowen received a letter from Commissioner Richard Corcoran on August 10, 2021. In the letter Corcoran refers to Hanna’s decision as a “significant neglect in response to the recently adopted Emergency Rule.” He also stated that an investigation will commence concerning the decision and he demanded Hanna respond via letter by Wednesday, August 11, 2021.
An emotional Hanna read the letter during Tuesday night’s meeting, and then requested the Board to discuss the issue. He stated he has done a great deal of soul searching and has heard from both sides. He said that on more than one occasion he has received emails calling him names and accusing him of being concerned with only getting votes. Hanna also sighted an occasion where he was verbally abused by a stranger with the opposing view, yelling at him that he is only sucking up to the Governor by allowing mask optional.
Hanna said, “you can’t put a price tag on someone’s life, including my salary.” This remark came because of a warning made by the Commissioner in the letter stating, that the “State Board of Education will withhold funds equal to the salaries for the Superintendent” and Board members.
After hearing discussion by the Board, 15 speakers from the community, and the possible legal options moving forward, Hanna addressed the Board.
Hanna explained that he agrees with parental rights, however, wearing a mask does not only protect the person wearing it, but also those around them. He stated, “the prudent thing to do would be, for tomorrow and to start school, we eliminate the medical doctor’s signature, however we require the parents to sign a form for opt out option.” Also, masks will be required for grades K through 12. The opt-out applies to all grades.
Hanna wants to move forward with seeking legal guidance to determine how Leon County Schools may gain control of their actions, by going against what the Governor and state have mandated, but without breaking the law.