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Leon County School Mask Mandate Returns As More Than 900 Students Are In Quarantine

A masked man in a white shirt stands in the middle of a classroom.
Facebook Live
Facebook Live
Superintendent Rocky Hanna announced the stricter mask policy via Facebook Live from Gilchrist Elementary School, which now has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the district.

Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna has reversed course – again – on masks.

“We are returning to our original plan of temporarily requiring masks for students in pre-K through grade 8,” Hanna said Sunday, saying this age group is not old enough for COVID-19 vaccinations.

He reiterated that the requirement is temporary, and parents who don’t want their kids to wear a mask have until Friday to submit a doctor’s note.

The high schools remain under a mask policy that enables opt-outs for any reason.

“The goal is to keep our schools open,” Hanna said during the announcement on Facebook Live. “However, if we continue down this path, I’m afraid we may have to look at other options, and the last thing we want to do is close our schools.”

Hanna noted the district has more than 900 students in quarantine, and daily positive cases of COVID-19 in schools are more than double any daily count posted during the last school year.

“We have been in school for just seven days and have recorded over 245 positive cases, which is nearly one-third of the total we had from all of last year,” Hanna said.

Hanna announced a mask mandate prior to the start of school but changed it after getting what he calls a “harsh and threatening letter” from Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

“Commissioner Corcoran said that our mask requirement was in violation of state law and that if it was executed, I along with members of the Leon County School Board would be held in violation and face the maximum penalties under law,” Hanna said. Those penalties include school funding cuts and potential removal from office.

Hanna says he’s ready for the consequences, and he again called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to return local control of these matters to the districts. The new law was created after DeSantis issued an executive order banning school mask mandates, saying parents should make the decision about whether their kids wear a mask to school.

“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. “It has also been well-documented by the vast majority of healthcare experts that these masks not only protect the person wearing the mask; more importantly, they protect the child beside them.”

Seven Florida districts have gone against the new law so far: Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Sarasota, and now Leon.

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.