Florida School District Drops Mask Mandate Opt-Out in More Defiance of DeSantis

Leon County Schools (LCS) is joining the growing list of Florida school districts defying Governor Ron DeSantis' order banning mask mandates in schools.

District superintendent Rocky Hanna said on Sunday, in a live-streamed video posted on Facebook, that students in pre-K to eighth grade will be required to wear masks, with no opt-out available, with one exception.

He noted that parents can exempt their children from this decision only by providing a form signed by a physician or a psychologist. Parents have until the end of the week to complete the form, according to Hanna.

"The reason for this is because these children are not eligible to become vaccinated and remain the most vulnerable in our community," he said.

On July 30, DeSantis signed an order giving parents the "freedom to choose" whether their child wears a mask. The governor later threatened to withhold salaries from school board members or the superintendent if they go against his order. Therefore, Hanna's decision could risk his salary.

"I am in total favor of individual rights and freedoms and the rights of parents; however, I strongly believe that my rights end when they infringe on the rights of others," Hanna said. "To me, your rights end when that child's rights are infringed on."

Hanna's announcement today is his second try at a mask mandate. On August 9, he announced a mandate but received a letter from Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran attacking his decision.

"I received a very harsh and threatening letter from Commissioner Corcoran [that] said the mask requirement was in violation of state law, and then if it was executed I along with members of the Leon County School Board would be compelled in violation and [will] face the maximum penalties under the law," Hanna said on Sunday.

Over 2,000 students opted out of the earlier mask mandate in the first week and a half of school, according to data released by LCS, which also showed that 916 students were quarantined as of Friday, making 3 percent of the district's total number of students. The data showed there were 264 reported cases of COVID over the past 14 days.

Leon County Schools is one of several Florida districts requiring students to wear masks and potentially risking withholding of funds. Alachua, Broward, and Sarasota school districts share the same stance against DeSantis' order.

With the tensions escalating, various school district board members are at risk of losing monthly funding, the Associated Press reported.

Earlier this month, several teachers died of COVID-19 at the Broward County Public Schools. The school board voted on August 10 for face coverings to be mandatory for staff and students at all district schools and facilities.

On the same day, Broward County School Board Chair Rosalind Osgood said during a news briefing, "We have instructed our legal counsel to challenge the rule [and] threat [made] by the governor that impact the salaries of school board members or superintendents."

"I was extremely troubled by the fact that the threat put me in a position to choose someone's life over monetary value. I am not an individual who is going to take a chance with somebody's life and play Russian Roulette by putting them into an environment with someone without a mask," she added.

Over 50 children on average are being hospitalized due to COVID every day in Florida amid a surge in the highly contagious Delta variant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Tuesday, the CDC reported that 55 children as young as infants and as old as 17 years old were hospitalized each day during the period between August 7 and August 13.

Newsweek contacted Leon County Schools but didn't receive a response by the time of publishing.

Leon Count Schools announce mask mandate
Leon County Schools is joining a growing list of Florida school districts defying Governor Ron DeSantis' order banning mask mandates. Above, students in Tampa on August 31, 2020. Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images