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Leon County School Superintendent reflects on pandemic experience

Superintendent Rocky Hanna recounts the lessons learned
Leon County School Superintendent reflects on pandemic experience
Posted at 5:00 PM, Dec 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-08 19:46:41-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Leon County Schools announced students would not be returning to school from spring break on March 13, 2020. That was just the beginning of the many changes schools would see due the coronavirus pandemic.  

Since then, we have seen the virus impact the health of students, teachers and staff. Now, the omicron variant is making for an uncertain path forward.  

“All in all, I'm okay,” Leon County School Superintendent, Rocky Hanna, told ABC 27. Just like so many school leaders across the state, Hanna has been through a lot over the last 21 months.  

A graduate of Leon County High School, the man who had served the county as an educator for three decades faced a challenge.

The district implemented mask policies for students and staff for the 2020-2021 school year. Hanna planned to make masks optional for the fall of 2021 not knowing the delta variant was on its way. District leaders ended up making masks mandatory in schools to slow the spread the virus. It wasn't a decision everyone agreed with.

“People are screaming at me, ‘you're just doing this for political reasons. You just doing this because you don't like the governor,’” Hanna said.

Mid-November of 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis signed four new bills into law. Those new laws limit COVID vaccine and mask mandates in the state and in schools.  

“There is this idea that somehow conservatism is about local school boards. It's the United States of America, not the United School Boards or county commissions of America,” Governor DeSantis said.

Leon County School District was part of a lawsuit filed in the summer of 2021 against the governor's ban on mask mandates in schools. The district ultimately decided to drop out of that lawsuit while it was in the appeal process. With fewer COVID cases, district leaders also relaxed their own mask polices making them optional going forward. That change brings them in line with state law.

Hanna had said in the past that if virus cases started climbing again in schools, he would consider bringing back mask mandates.

However, assuming the numbers stay low, going forward, Hanna said now there is a chance for him to refocus on early learning initiatives, what they are doing in Lively Technical College to expand career technical opportunities and other the initiatives they had going prior to COVID.