TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Leon County Schools has removed their mask opt-out policy, citing COVID-19 data over the first week of school.
Superintendent Rocky Hanna announced the news during a Facebook Live press conference on Sunday afternoon. He delivered the message from Gilcrest Elementary School, the school with the second-highest number of cases behind Lincoln High School.
Students in Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade will be temporarily required to wear masks in LCS schools effective Monday. There was no time frame given for how long this new mandate would last.
Individual liberty forms that were mandated by the governor's office will no longer be valid for the Pre-k through 8th graders.
The old policy gave two options for exemption from the mask policy, a doctor's note or a parent's choice to opt their child out.
Masks only apply up until 8th grade because the vaccine is only available currently for those 12 and older. The age range for this mask policy is from ages five to 11.
"The reason for this is because these children are not yet eligible to become vaccinated and remain the most vulnerable in our community," said Hanna.
In response to a letter from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran last week that said "a mask requirement was in violation with state law and that if it was executed [Hanna], along with members of the Leon County School Board would be held in violation and face the maximum penalties under the law," Hanna said his priorities lie with the local students.
"I do have an obligation to uphold the laws of the state of Florida," said Hanna. "But, I have a greater obligation however to protect, the health, safety and welfare of the children of Tallahassee and Leon County."
Hanna explained the current situation of the school district with some COVID-19 numbers:
- 245 positive cases, which is 1/3 of the total case number from last year.
- From Tuesday to Friday of the first week in school, LCS was averaging new case numbers in the mid-40s for students and employees. The single-day high from last year was 19 new cases.
- As of Friday, over 900 LCS students are in quarantine.
The superintendent also warned that if the numbers continue to worsen, that more changes may need to happen.
"The numbers speak for themselves, it's time to make a change," said Hanna. "The goal is to keep our schools open. However, if we keep continuing down this path, I'm afraid we may have to look at other options."
Hanna then added that the last thing he wants to do is have to close the schools.
With 2,525 parental opt-out forms for masks in the school district, that number will be down to almost 1,500 forms starting tomorrow.
Parents will have until Friday, Aug. 27 to complete the form which requires the name of the physician or psychologist along with their signature and an official stamp on the form.
If they do not have an official stamp, they can simply attach a letter with their letterhead, according to Hanna.
These forms are available to download by clicking here.