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Masks Not Required For Leon County Students

Hispanic Students Near School Bus Wearing Face Masks.
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.

Leon County schools will stick with a mask optional policy when students return next month. That decision was unchanged after hours of testimony at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

“There were many people that told me last year that I was signing their death certificate; I was making them choose between their life and their job, that their blood was going to be on my hands,” said Superintendent Rocky Hanna, referring to schools being open during the pandemic for those who wanted to attend in person. “I’m over it.”

Hanna said the district will continue to strongly encourage mask-wearing.

“It's a difficult situation,” says Leon County Commissioner Brian Welch. “I don't envy the position the superintendent and school board are in. But I think our role as public leaders is really to encourage folks to get vaccinated, and then provide parents the option of asking their kids to wear masks.”

Brian Welch.jpg
Leon County
Leon County Commissioner Brian Welch is also a history teacher at Chiles High School.

Welch, a teacher at Chiles High School, is curious about what will happen if COVID-19 spreads through classrooms since the digital academies that enabled students to attend remotely last year are no longer in place.

“If we have an outbreak in a class and the whole class is quarantined, do we send everybody in that class home, and then teachers go back to Zoom lessons?” He says district leaders haven’t offered a protocol.

For now, the only remote option for students – aside from being homeschooled – is to enroll in the Leon County Virtual School.

Welch’s family just endured COVID-19. He says he and his wife were fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms.

“I've kind of been surprised at the amount of vaccine hesitancy,” Welch says. “I think it's unfortunate that we've politicized everything in our society. I mean, we’ve politicized vaccines and medicine, and we’ve politicized science and scientists.”

“We have a vaccine. Anecdotally and scientifically the data is pretty straightforward that it's effective,” Welch says. “So I think our job is to encourage people to get vaccinated, and it has to be an encouragement. It can't be a demand. We can't shame people - that doesn't work - and I think the same with mask-wearing.”

Leon County teachers return to work this Monday, and students begin the new school year on Wednesday, August 11.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.