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Leon County Schools Revert To Mask Policy With Only Medical Exemptions

 Leon County schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna
Leon County schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna

The change would be in violation of rules enacted to enforce Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order requiring parents to make mask decisions for their children.

Leon County’s school district announced Sunday that students in prekindergarten through eighth grade will be required to wear masks for COVID-19 protection with only medical exemptions.

The policy change would be in violation of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order on masks and rules enacted to enforce the order by the state Department of Health and Board of Education. The state rules require parents to decide whether their children wear masks in school.

Leon County schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna said the district has seen positive tests for the coronavirus skyrocket since school opened Aug. 11. More than 245 cases have been reported with more than 900 in quarantine.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Hanna said in a Facebook Live post that announced the change. “It’s time to make a change. The goal is to keep our schools open, however if we continue down this path I’m afraid we will have to look at different options.”

Leon parents who don’t want their elementary or middle school student to wear a mask will need to get a note from their child’s physician or psychologist. High school students are exempt because they can be vaccinated. Parents have until Friday to provide the note, the district said.

Leon started the school year allowing a parental opt-out for all grades before becoming the seventh district to defy the governor’s order. The others are in Sarasota, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Duval, Broward and Alachua counties.

The Board of Education on Friday said if Alachua and Broward officials don't comply by Tuesday, the state will withhold district funds in amounts equal to the collective monthly salaries of school board members. The board added that funding for programs and services for students are not to be reduced.

Orange County’s school board has called an executive session for Monday to discuss with legal counsel options for changing to a stricter mask mandate and possibly suing the state over its rules.

Sunday’s change is actually a return to a previous policy for Leon, which has changed several times, from voluntary to mandatory with only medical opt-outs to the most recent with parental opt-outs.

The county began posting the number of parental exemptions on its COVID-19 dashboard: More than 2,500 forms were signed in a district of more than 30,000 students.

Information from the Associated Press and WFSU’s Lynn Hatter was used in this report.

Copyright 2021 Health News Florida

I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.