The hits just keep on coming for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
Leon County Schools superintendent Rocky Hanna on Sunday announced that the school district’s mask mandate is now mandatory, ending the option for parents to opt their children out. The district’s new mandatory mask mandate makes exceptions for medical reasons and defies DeSantis’ ban on school mask mandates.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Hanna’s announcement was made during a press conference at a Gilchrist Elementary School classroom that was live-streamed on Facebook. Hanna said that the district’s decision to implement a mandatory mask mandate was due to children’s ineligibility to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The reason for this is because these children are not eligible to become vaccinated and remain the most vulnerable in our community,” Hanna said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Hanna reportedly said parents have until the end of this school week to complete a form signed by a physician or a licensed psychologist if parents want to opt their child out of the mask mandate.
“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,” Hanna said, adding that research from healthcare experts shows that masks protect both the adults and the children beside them, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “To me, your rights end when that child’s rights are infringed on.”
Hanna added that his goal is to keep schools open, but that he has grave concerns over the surge of COVID-19 cases among students and staff in the district.
“Last Tuesday through Friday, during those four days, we had an average daily number of cases for students and employees in the mid-40s,” Hanna said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “The single day high from last year was 19.”
“It’s time to make a change,” Hanna continued.
Hanna’s announcement was issued after he met with principals Friday morning to get feedback on the district’s mask mandate, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
The Leon County Schools’ adoption of a mandate mask mandate comes after mixed messaging on the public health measure.
Last month, Hanna defended the district’s previous optional mask policy during a three hour-long school board meeting.
However, two days before classes were set to begin earlier this month, Hanna announced during a press conference that masks were required for K-8 students, with the exception of medical opt-outs.
But the district reversed course on its policy again a day later after DeSantis’ office threatened “maximum” sanctions against school leaders who buck his mask mandate ban, which include withholding salary money from Hanna and school board members. Following DeSantis’ funding threat, Leon County Schools switched back to dropping its medical-only opt-out, allowing parents to opt their children out without a doctor’s note.
Leon County Schools joins a growing number of Florida school districts that are defying DeSantis’ order, which includes five of the state’s largest school districts.
As more districts buck DeSantis’ ban, the governor’s office has continued trying to pressure schools to reverse their mask mandate. On Friday, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an ultimatum to school officials in Broward and Alachua Counties by warning that they had two days to get rid of their district’s mask mandates or school board members would start losing their monthly pay. Both districts refuse to budge even after Corcoran’s threat, however.
Last week, President Biden announced that he directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to order his department’s civil rights office to probe states such as Florida and Texas that are banning school mask mandates.
On Sunday, Cardona reiterated the administration’s support for schools that are plowing forward with masks mandates despite bans issued by Republican governors. During an interview on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Cardona stressed that schools “do not have to get the green light from (their) governor” to access COVID relief funds that would make up for financial losses as a result of defying Republican governors’ mask mandate bans.
“It’s sad that we’re talking about this now. We’re going to use our Office for Civil Rights to investigate any claims that come forward to make sure that students rights are kept,” Cardona said. “And we’re also going to ensure that the funds are available to those districts that are doing the right thing to make sure students come in safely.”