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"We had to make a change." Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna battles FDOE, DeSantis over masks

Posted at 7:37 PM, Aug 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-24 09:59:48-04

TALLAASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna is taking a strong stance, going against the Governor's Orders and making masks mandatory for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

A move that could come with strong consequences.

"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," said Superintendent Hanna.

Starting next week, students in kindergarten through eighth grade will be required to wear a mask unless there’s a doctor’s note stating otherwise.

"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," said Hanna.

Hanna’s latest guidance is the opposite of the Governor and Florida Department of Education.

"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," said Hanna.

Under Florida law, the Governor can sanction, fine, or even remove any elected official for going against any law or order.

"We just had to. If not, I would've been having my head in the sand. We said we would look at the numbers and adjust if need be and that's what we're doing," said Hanna.

The Department of Education says Hanna and the LCS board are in violation of the Parents' Bill of Rights-- which prohibits school districts from forcing students to wear a mask, an executive order issued in July, and Emergency Rule from the Florida Department of Health.

The Governor's Office said in a statement

"It is disappointing that Leon Schools would violate Florida law by reversing its mask policy, which had previously protected parents’ rights and complied with state law by offering an opt-out provision. There is no scientific basis for Leon Schools’ decision; sadly, the school board and superintendent are focused on playing politics instead of doing their research — and doing the right thing for kids and families."
Christina Pushaw

"I'm disappointed. Within minutes of our release yesterday, the governor, his press secretary comes out with a statement about playing politics. I'm not in a verbal spout with the president of the United States, I'm not running for Governor. I have no aspirations for running for president. So if he wants to talk politics, maybe someone need to look at themselves in the mirror instead of casting that shadow down on us," Hanna responded.

Part of the state from the Department of Education reads

"Districts knowingly and intentionally violating state law and rule must be held accountable. Again, they cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow."
Jared Ochs

"It's easy for them to live in their ivory white tower and then to pass judgment on us locally when we're here on the ground listening to parents, looking at students and teachers. It's unacceptable," said Hanna. "To continue to be threatened, bullied, and harassed, I expect better. I would ask and plead with the Governor, do not let politics or your pride outweigh what doing the right thing is."

Now parents, like Isabel Ruano, are rallying behind Superintendent Hanna.

"It would be very concerning if the governor decides to remove elected officials. It will be extremely anti-democratic. Because Rocky Hanna is an elected official," she said.

Supportive parents now have a petition going around, urging the Governor to not reprimand the Superintendent.

"It's been a struggle and it's been very frustrating. I know it's been challenging for elected officials. All of this is new, " said Ruano.

In Leon County School's agenda review meeting Monday afternoon, one parent showed up to thank Superintendent Hanna and let him know that hundreds of other parents have joined her to write and call the Governor on Hanna's behalf.

School board member DeeDee Rasmussen says while safety is important, she feels the Superintendent should have waited for the board. She says she supports following the law and instead of taking the challenge to a courtroom. Rasmussen plans to continue the conversation at Tuesday night's school board meeting.