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Parental opt-out for masks coming back to Leon County Schools following school board meeting

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 11:24 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A parental mask opt-out is returning to Leon County Schools.

Superintendent Rocky Hanna presented the recommendation to the Leon County School Board Tuesday night. After a lengthy back and forth, the board gave its blessing. The change could officially be announced later this week, and take effect next week.

Parents who had initially opted out of mask wearing at the beginning of the school year will not have to resubmit a form, Hanna said.

Soon after the year started, the district switched to a stricter mask mandate, only allowing for a medical opt-out. A tense battle with the state culminated last week, when the Department of Education official punished the district and withheld board member salaries.

But Hanna and others indicated the move to allow opt-outs was driven by lower case numbers in the classroom.

“It was the recommendation of the principals that it was safe to take the next step,” Hanna said.

Quarantining policies remain the same. Visitors, like mentors, will be allowed back inside the schools as long as they remain masked. Parents are not yet allowed to visit their child for lunch. The district plans to resume field trips as well.

Not every school board member supported the recommendations at first. Rosanne Wood wondered if the district was moving to quickly. She suggested waiting until the end of October to make the change.

“It’s hard to go back once you say we’re going to allow this,” she said.

“So even though I’m not considered a conservative person, I think this is the conservative thing to do.”

Darryl Jones argued that masks may have helped spur the decline in case numbers, and wondered if the district should hold off.

But Alva Striplin presented a spreadsheet she said included state data that shows districts without mask mandates have seen the same improvement in cases.

“We’ve always said one size does not fit all in this district, and we’re allowing parents that feel this is the right choice for their students to do that,” she said.

Because the superintendent is already authorized to set policy under emergency action, the board didn’t need to formally approve the change Tuesday,

But confusion remains as to if the district is in compliance with the state’s guidance. Hanna said while the masking opt-out conforms with the DOH rule, certain quarantining and testing policies do not.

“We’re still not in line because we don’t believe it’s the right thing to do.,” he said. “And we won’t be strong armed by someone that says do it my way or the highway.”

The board agreed to look for further instruction from attorneys as to what happens next on that front.

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