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Leon County Superintendent explains mask policy change

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 5:02 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna says current COVID-19 cases in schools necessitated a change in policy; he announced masks will be required for students in pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade in a Facebook Live post on Sunday, August 2.

The policy represents a change from the start of the school year, which allowed parents to opt their children out. Now, only medical exemptions will be accepted.

Hanna says in the first seven days of the school year, Leon County Schools had 245 positive cases, and almost 1,000 students in quarantine. He says he does not want to close schools, and requiring masks is a step to keep that event from happening.

Hanna says he met with school principals on Friday about what they were seeing in their schools; he says that group agreed it was time to make a change.

News of the death of a third-grade student at Canopy Oaks Elementary School also led to the decision; Hanna did not discuss the official cause of death.

“On Sunday I decided to implement a requirement for masks, with an opt-out only for medical reasons for ages pre-K through 8th grade. This also comes on the heels Saturday of us losing a student. I can’t go into the details of why, but it became very important for me and our school community, for us to go ahead and make this change,” Hanna said.

He also had a message for the Governor and the Commissioner of Education.

“Unless you’re in our shoes every day, looking our parents face to face in the eye and our students, you don’t feel what we feel. I have asked and begged for local autonomy and control and it has fallen on deaf ears. All I get is threats and harassment about taking my paycheck, maybe taking my job. At the end of the day, my job is to protect our children, and if it costs me those things, then it just does,” Hanna said.

One local mother has mixed feelings about the decision; she says she asks her five-year-old son to wear a mask inside, but not outside.

“Not even mandated. More so, encouraged. But required, no. Encouraged, yes. That’s how I feel about it,” she said.

Hanna cited the science behind masks, emphasizing they are not the “end all, be all.”

“I’m all about liberties and peoples’ rights. But these things protect not only the person who’s wearing them, according to the vast majority of healthcare experts, also protect the children who’s next to them. And it’s incumbent upon us to provide them a safe environment, just like we do for the ones who have masks on,” Hanna said. “So, I just think our parents need to understand, it’s bigger than them, it’s bigger for their child. Is it inconvenient? Yes. Are they comfortable? No. But at the end of the day, the goal is to save lives and keep our schools open.”

The Governor’s Office responded to the change on Sunday, calling it disappointing.

The Leon County School Board is meeting Monday evening to discuss the agenda for Tuesday’s School Board Meeting.

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