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Leon County Schools Could Require Masks For Some Students

Thirteen men and women stand in a line behind a man in a dark suit who is speaking at a podium.
Leon County Schools
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Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna explains his request for a temporary mask mandate for PreK-8th-grade students when school starts on Monday, Aug. 11, 2021.

Less than a week after Leon County Schools' Superintendent Rocky Hanna spoke out against forcing the district's students to wear face coverings, he's seeking special permission from Gov. Ron DeSantis to implement a temporary mask mandate for some students.

"At this time, we would like to implement a temporary mask requirement in grades pre-K through eight in order to help control this community's positivity rate and protect those students who are most vulnerable, as they are not eligible yet to receive a vaccination,” Hanna said at a press conference Wednesday.

In a letter addressed to DeSantis on Tuesday, Hanna explained he's changed his view on masks because the coronavirus delta variant is sending school-age children to the hospital. "That is a game-changer for me," Hanna said at the press conference.

In the last 10 days, one child between the ages of 5-12 had been admitted to Tallahassee Memorial Health Care, a spokesperson told WFSU News on Wednesday. In that same time period, four infants had been admitted to the hospital, along with two patients between the ages of 12-17. Some of those patients have been admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit, the spokesperson said.

No children have been hospitalized at Capital Regional Medical Center, which lacks a pediatric inpatient unit.

Hanna's request for permission to implement a temporary mask requirement for pre-K through 8 students comes after DeSantis issued an executive order barring local school districts from putting in place mask requirements for students.

Last week, Hanna agreed with DeSantis in opposition to mask requirements for students. "I saw the look of despair in their eyes last year," Hanna said, reflecting on last year's mask requirement. "We’ve seen this virus have little impact on school-age children." Hanna then cited the low number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and lack of deaths among the district's student population last year.

Five days after that statement, he's switching course, asking DeSantis for permission to put in place a temporary mask requirement for some students. "Today we are asking the governor to give us the autonomy and the flexibility to change course and do the right thing for Leon County."

All school district employees must also wear a mask to work if they're not able to stay at least six-feet away from others, Hanna said. "If they have their class in front of them at six feet or greater while they're lecturing, they can obviously pull down their mask," Hanna said. "It's hard to lecture all day long while wearing a mask."

Hanna says he's hoping to hear from DeSantis by the end of the week on whether the district may enforce a temporary mask requirement when school starts on Wednesday, Aug. 11. He says the district would keep the requirement in place through Aug. 31 before determining whether to extend the mandate.

"If things change and the positivity rate goes down and we aren't seeing children who are being drastically impacted by this virus, then we may be able to return to optional."

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Leon County students must report to school on Monday. School starts on Wednesday, Aug. 11.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.