MIAMI (AP) — The superintendent of the school district in the capital of Florida said Monday that he decided to require masks amid an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations fueled by the delta variant — despite attempts by the governor to deter schools from enforcing such a mandate.
Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna announced in a livestreamed announcement that children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade will be required to wear masks when classes resume in Tallahassee on Wednesday.
The Florida Department of Health issued a rule last week that districts must allow parents to decide whether their children will wear masks. Hanna said he would make an exception to his mask mandate for students who have a note from a physician or a psychologist.
“I did a lot of soul searching, a lot of thinking,” Hanna said. “If, heaven forbid, we lost a child to this virus, I can’t just simply blame the governor of the state of Florida. I can’t.”
The superintendent said he sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis asking him to allow him to enforce a temporary mask mandate as virus cases continue climbing. Hanna said he did not receive a response.
The Republican governor issued an order in late July for the education and health departments to come up with ways of punishing school districts that mandate mask-wearing in classrooms. DeSantis maintains that enforcing masks violates parental rights. He cites Florida’s new Parents Bill of Rights law that says parents have the freedom to make decisions about their children’s health and education.
Two Florida school districts first stepped up last week to announce that they would follow recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and require masks when they restart classes later this week. Four others have adopted mask policies since then.
On Friday, Florida’s Board of Education approved an emergency rule granting private school vouchers for children who feel they are being harassed by a district’s COVID-19 safety policies, including mask requirements. Traditionally, vouchers have been awarded to children who are being bullied.
One of the largest school districts in Broward County will be discussing the mask mandate on Tuesday.