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The Leon County School District lets parents opt-out of masking — no medical excuse required

Students arrive at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, FL, Aug 10, 2021.
Chris O'Meara
Students arrive at Sessums Elementary School in Riverview, FL, Aug 10, 2021.

The Leon County School District has dropped its mask requirements for students in grades Pre-K through 8th. Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna says he’s following through on his promise to parents to revisit the policy when positivity rates fell.

The decision comes after the district was found to be violating the state’s ban on mandatory mask-wearing by not allowing parents to opt out of the policy. Parents were required to get a medical excuse. Despite the change, Hanna says the district is still likely in violation of state mask rules because it is still requiring face coverings for children exposed to COVID who otherwise would have been quarantined.

“We think we took a big step a couple of weeks ago when we eliminated the quarantine and keeping our kids in school. But our principles and I strongly believe that if you are exposed to this virus, that we do require masks for the duration of what otherwise would have been the quarantine period, which is in violation of the emergency rule," Hanna said.

The state recently relaxed rules on student quarantines—requiring them only for children who've tested positive for the virus and have symptoms. The state requires students to obtain a negative PCR or rapid test before they can return to school. Leon goes a step further and requires a negative PCR test or doctor's note. The district is not accepting rapid tests.

The decision to lift the face mask policies did not require a board vote, as the board has given Hanna the ability to make health and safety decisions. Still, board members did vote on the policy, with only Roseanne Wood opposing lifting the mask mandate. Board members have grown weary of the mask battle, which has pitted parents against parents, and parents against board members, and the district against the state.

"I feel like it's becoming a power struggle," said Alva Striplin.

“Parents will still make those same choices, equipped with the opportunity to take advantage of that, and those who will not, will not," said Darryl Jones. "I am ready to move on…I’m ready to talk about how we’re going to respond to these headlines.”

Those headlines include an uptick of guns being found at schools and a rise in disciplinary issues. An effort to remove Leon from a lawsuit against the state over masks failed. Leon is one of six districts suing to overturn a Department of Health rule giving parents the sole authority to opt-out of masking. The districts say the rule oversteps the department’s authority.

Copyright 2021 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative.
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