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LCS Superintendent: 'This isn't the time to lift the mask mandate in schools'

Posted at 6:03 PM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 18:12:42-04

LEON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna is taking a stand against the recommendation to remove face masks from the classroom. It comes following a letter from State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that could impact whether students will wear masks this Fall.

The letter states the Department of Education had reviewed data and did not find a correlation between mask mandates and the presence of COVID-19 in schools.

"This letter is disappointing. Maybe he'll come back and clarify. But it's also very premature," said Hanna. "It's also the wrong message to send to our students. We don't want the parents and students to come forward and say look, even the commissioner says masks don't help. I think a statement like this is irresponsible. It's premature," said Hanna. "This is an attempt to unravel what we started in August and this isn't the time to do it."

Hanna said, while he agreed with the reopening of schools in the Fall, he in no way agrees with Corcoran's letter to district leaders Wednesday night that recommended they lift mask restrictions in classrooms next August. Right now, the district policy requires students to wear them unless they're eating, drinking, or under a designated "mask break."

"We're all tired of wearing these things. I'm tired. My wife's a teacher - she's tired. Our children are tired," said Hanna. "But now is not the time to make a statement like this. We need to finish this school year strong. Then, reassess and re-evaluate. Continue to take guidance from the CDC. I haven't seen the CDC make a bold statement like this."

The data cited in the letter also contradicts what experts like Florida A&M University Public Health & Epidemiology Professor Dr. Perry Brown believe.

"Masks help," said Dr. Brown. "They're a part of our toolbox."

Dr. Brown said for kids, covering your face from particles leaving your mouth is one of the only protection they have against this virus, especially since they can't get vaccinated.

"In places where children may congregate, even with distancing, where children may congregate there is the possibility for transmission from child to a child. But the bigger danger is transmitting that to a family member," said Dr. Brown.

Leon County High School Art Teacher Jessica Barthle worries about the domino effect it could pose.

"In August, when all of the students come back because we're not offering digital academy if we're not requiring masks...I don't understand how that's not going to become an issue if we're not able to vaccinate our children," said Barthle.

Superintendent Hanna said he believes local districts do have the autonomy to keep their mandates. Even if they don't, Hanna said he's fighting back.

"We're not changing a thing now. If we end up going to court over it, we're going to court," said Hanna.

"While we may not agree on a lot of things, especially how the school year started this year with the mitigation measures," said Barthle. "It is reassuring that we are still prioritizing the safety of our students, even if it's not that big of a priority for the state."

ABC 27 also reached out to Corcoran's office but it declined to comment on further details about the letter.