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State Ed Board Will Look At Districts With Mask Mandates Next Week. Many, Like Leon, Could Face Penalties

Pencil stand sits on an empty desk after school at Sabal Palm Elementary
Patrick Sternad
WFSU Public Media
Pencil stand sits on an empty desk after school at Sabal Palm Elementary

The Florida Board of Education is likely to find nearly a dozen school districts are or have been violating the state’s school mask rules. The board is expected to get an update on the districts at a meeting next week.

Leon County School Board member Darryl Jones worries lessening local safety protocols will lead to a resurgence of the virus.

"I think that those safety protocols that we put in place keep us safe and continue to keep us safe rather than us possibly change and lessen those protocols which could find us in a reverse track," Jones said during this week's school board meeting.

On Monday, Superintendent Rocky Hanna announced changes to the district's quarantine process. Students who are asymptomatic will no longer have to stay home. They can go to school, but will have to wear face masks. Hanna says he supports the state's change on quarantine policies.

The change comes after the Florida Department of Health revamped its rules governing school COVID protocols. The rewritten rule also revised language around face masks, making it explicit that parents only have the right to decide whether to allow their children to wear face coverings at school.

The changed rule led an administrative law judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by several school districts with mandatory mask policies, including Leon.

Hanna says the district, along with several others, will refile their lawsuit as early as next week.

Also next week, the State Board of Education will hear an update on districts that are defying Gov. Ron DeSantis' executive order barring mandatory mask policies. The Department of Health's rule is an outgrowth of that executive order. Alachua County School Board members are already being fined for their mandatory mask policy and more districts could follow.

Alachua, along with several others, only allows parents to opt out of the policy if they have a medical excuse.

The federal government is backfilling funding the district has lost.

Follow @HatterLynn

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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