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Leon superintendent prepares to face state education board over his mask mandate

Patrick Stenard
WFSU Public Media
Superintendent of Schools Rocky Hanna holds a press conference at the Leon County School District Office this Monday afternoon to address concerns over changing mask mandates and policies in the wake of a surge in cases brought on by the delta variant of COVID-19.

The Leon County School District along with 10 others are facing potential fines over their mandatory mask policies. The State Board of education is slated to take up findings that the districts have, or are, violating the state’s effort to ban mandatory masking.

More than a dozen districts elected to require medical excuses to opt-out and the fight has waged across school board meetings and courtrooms, even drawing in President Joe Biden’s administration. Now, the districts are slated to go before the board of education, which has already fined two districts—Alachua and Broward—over their mandatory mask policies. Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna says he’s going to try to appeal to the board’s “better sense".

“They say at the beginning of every meeting that the board is unpaid and not political. And I am going to just appeal to their better sense of judgment, not to let politics cloud…what they think is right."

Hanna maintains his district is doing the right thing by requiring students to wear face coverings and requiring medical excuses to opt-out. The Governor, Board of Education, and Education Commissioner—believe the districts are not doing the right thing. They've repeatedly pointed to the new Parental Bill of Rights Law, which says parents have ultimate say over the healthcare decisions of their children. DeSantis has consistently come down on the side of voluntary masking.

“You’re free to recommend. You can encourage whatever you want. But I don’t think you’re can override the rights and decisions of the parents," DeSantis said.

The fight has grown increasingly contentious amid lawsuits and threats of funding cuts. The federal government has stepped in, and is backfilling money districts may lose due to fines. Alachua has already received $147,000 to make up for state fines it's incurring over its mandatory mask policies. And Broward is receiving $420,000.

In a letter to districts, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says in addition to holding back a percentage of state funds equal to 1/12 of board member salaries, the state will also hold back money "equal to any federal grants districts with mandatory policies could get

In response, Hanna says what he’s said from the beginning.

“My job will never be able to replace a child’s life or one of our employees’ lives. And I’ve went to a child’s funeral and two employees’ funerals. I mean, you just can’t. You can’t put a price tag on that. And if it costs me my salary or my job, that’s just the price I’ll pay.”

<a href="https://twitter.com/HatterLynn?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw" class="twitter-follow-button" data-show-count="false">Follow @HatterLynn</a><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <br><br> Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative.  <br><br> Find <a href="https://news.wfsu.org/people/lynn-hatter">complete bio, contact info, and more stories</a> here.