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Leon, along with five other districts, is slated to go before a judge Thursday over the state's mask mandate ban

Leon County students can go to school mask-free, although Supt. Rocky Hanna says schools may pivot in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Andy Dean Photography/Andy Dean
Leon County students can go to school mask-free, although Supt. Rocky Hanna says schools may pivot in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

An administrative law judge won’t throw out a challenge to a Department of Health rule attempting to stop local school boards from issuing mask mandates. Six school boards are seeking to overturn the order amid an ongoing fight with Gov. Ron DeSantis. The court is slated to hear the case Thursday morning.

The districts, including Leon, refiled the lawsuit against the Department of Health last month. A previous lawsuit by the districts was dismissed after the Department made changes to its rule. But this time, the state failed to get the case thrown out. Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna believes, even with the rule revisions, the Department is still overstepping its authority.

 “They can talk about stopping the spread of the virus and health-related things, but wearing masks and not wearing masks and the parental bill of rights, is out of their purview. We believe they’ve overstepped their bounds in that part of the rule. Then, number two, we believe, if you read the Parental Bill of Rights, we’ve acted within it.," he said in a prior interview with WFSU.

The Department of Health’s Rule is an outgrowth of an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis that says parents should have the ultimate say over whether students wear face coverings in school. The order also sought to block school districts from requiring students to wear face coverings. More than a dozen districts defied that order and made their own local policies. Some have backtracked in the wake of financial penalties from the state and declining COVID-19 infections. Others, like Broward County, have not.

"As far as Broward County Public Schools is concerned, we will continue to implement our current face covering policy. Our school board will continue to review that policy at an upcoming meeting, because the decision is based on the moment of now and what is occurring on boots on the ground, our local community," said Cartwright back in September. Her comments were reported by sister station WLRN in Miami.

Leon, Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Duval and Alachua County School Districts are suing the state. In trying to get the suit dismissed, attorneys for the Department of Health said the school districts don’t have legal grounds to challenge rules they must follow.

Leon recently relaxed its face mask policy, making it voluntary for most students, except for those who have been exposed to COVID and would otherwise be quarantined. Even with those changes, the district is still out of compliance according to the state. Leon board members started having their salaries withheld as of last week.

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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. 

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