TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — With less than 24 hours before kids head back to class in Leon County, district leaders and parents are making major decisions about masks in schools.
Superintendent Rocky Hanna moved to require masks pre-K through 12, remove the medical exemption, opting for parental exemption for the first day of school. He recommended over the next few days the Board would work with legal counsel to review the district's rights.
The new rule passed unanimously.
"If your child can wear a mask, if your child can wear a mask to protect other children, wear a mask tomorrow morning," said Hanna.
Hanna said he wanted to assure parents that children who show up to school on the first day or two of the new school year without a mask will not be turned away or punished.
Children will be given a parental opt-out form on the first day of school and have until next week to turn in. The form will also be emailed to parents immediately.
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Hanna announced Monday that LCS students in grades K through 8 will be required to wear a mask unless excused by a physician.
The decision came after first asking permission from Governor Ron Desantis, who has since said that superintendents who enforce mask mandates could risk having their salaries withheld.
Hanna read from a letter from Education Commissioner Ed Corcoran outlining disagreement with Leon Schools decision to mandate masks for K-8 students with medical exemption.
He also read from strongly-worded emails from parents accusing the superintendent of discriminatory and despicable acts, audibly affected by their content.
Chairwoman Georgia Bowen commended Hanna for his bravery and compassion throughout the pandemic.
Board member Alva Striplin said she has received emails so crass they can't be read in public and have been sent to security.
"This cause has brought out a new low in people," said Striplin. "People don't seem to understand that we're human beings."
"I fear for the future of our school district if we are fined for non-compliance," Striplin continued.
Dozens of Leon County residents spoke in favor and against the proposed rule. Parents like Lara Perez Felkner say they appreciate and support Hanna's decision.
"As a parent and member of the community, I feel a lot better that children are going back to school masked and that my children will be sitting next to children who are masked on the school bus and in the classroom," Felkner said.
Again, children will be given a parental opt-out form on the first day of school and have until next week to turn in. The form will also be emailed to parents immediately.
Opt Out Mask Form by WTXL ABC27 on Scribd