Leon Schools asks permission to mandate masks for younger students

Leon Schools asks permission to mandate masks for younger students
Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 11:10 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2021 at 12:17 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna says the district is asking permission from the governor to mandate students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and staff to wear masks when the new school year begins next week.

His announcement comes as COVID cases surge in Leon County, with more than 100 people hospitalized.

The county needs to take the step, Hanna says, to protect young students who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. He says the district’s June 11 decision to leave masks optional came when the COVID positivity rate in Leon County was two percent. That rate is now 14-15%, Hanna said. He also mentioned several school-age children in Leon County are hospitalized with COVID right now.

The county’s stance clashes with an executive order issued by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last week, barring local school districts in the state from mandating masks be worn by both teachers and students in the classroom.

The superintendent says he sent a letter to the governor asking for autonomy and local control ahead of implementing the mask mandate. Hanna says he has not yet heard back from the governor’s office.

The superintendent says he wants to keep the mask requirement in place from the start of school on Aug. 11 through the end of the month. At that point, district administrators would reevaluate based on the number of child cases, positivity rates and other factors in the community, according to Hanna.

The proposed temporary mandate is a reversal from Hanna’s previous decision to make masks optional. Hanna said that was based on the numbers with the Leon County Health Department at the time, reporting zero hospitalizations among those under 12 and four hospitalizations among those 12 to 18.

That prompted heated backlash from parents and local activists.

Recommendations released by the CDC earlier this month state that masks should be worn by anyone not vaccinated over the age of two. The American Academy for Pediatrics recommends universal masking in schools for anyone over the age of two regardless of vaccination status

Gadsden County Schools initially planned to require masks, but reversed its decision and is making masks optional in light of the governor’s executive order.

In South Georgia, Thomasville City Schools and Valdosta City Schools are requiring masks for the start of the new school year.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story said LCS had already implemented this temporary mask mandate for the upcoming school year. The district is awaiting a response from the governor’s office before changing its mask-optional policy.

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