TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday accused school districts of being "anti-science" by imposing a new universal mask mandate for students.
All public school children K-8, those under the age of 12, in Leon County are now required to wear facial coverings inside school buildings and on school district transportation without the parental opt-out option. The only exceptions are for students with certain medical conditions.
"I understand that I may be in violation of a state rule, but I am also responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the 30,0000 students in the Leon County School System and that will always be my top priority," LCS superintendent Rocky Hanna said Monday.
Speaking at a new monoclonal antibody treatment center in Fort Pierce on Monday, DeSantis said school districts are violating state law by refusing to give parents the final decision over whether their children wear masks in school.
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"I want parents to ultimately have the call on masks," DeSantis said. "I just ultimately think the parents have the best understanding."
DeSantis said school districts that want a mask mandate are "anti-science" for not recognizing "immunity conferred through prior infection," referring to the notion that students previously infected with COVID-19 have a certain level of immunity to the virus.
"If a kid was infected this summer, that kid does not need to be in a mask, no matter what you think of the mask," DeSantis said. "That has immunity. And so, if you're not recognizing that basic, clear scientific fact at this point, that shows you that this is more political."
Last week, the Florida Department of Education gave school districts in Broward and Alachua counties -- which are also requiring masks for students with no opt-out provision -- 48 hours to comply with state law or have the salaries of school board members cut.
Both districts stood firm and said they're not changing their mask mandates.
But, Hanna is not in the same situation. He was elected as superintendent. The superintendent in Alachua and Broward were appointed.
"I understand that I'm the first elected superintendent to take this action and I also fully understand the potential consequences, but those consequences don't come close when you compare it to a child's life," Hanna said. "Appointed superintendents work at the discretion of the board. As an elected superintendent, elected by the voters of Leon County, I'm subjected to potentially be sanctioned, or fined or removed by the Governor. Appointed superintendents are not."
The Biden Administration quickly responded and said the U.S. Department of Education is "ready to assist any district facing repercussions for imposing CDC-recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies that will protect the health and safety of students, educators, and staff."
"We have to protect those children," said Hanna. "We lost a child in the Leon County School System on Saturday. I can't go into the exact causes of death, but the bottom line is that we lost a child. It breaks my heart. We have to do everything we can do in our power to uphold the law while also more importantly protecting our children from harm."
The Leon County School Board will hold a public meeting Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. Public comment is available by email or in-person by signing up ahead of time.