Tallahassee Democrat | by CD Davidson-Hiers | April 15, 2021
Following a directive Wednesday from the state level that Florida public school districts should not require face masks for the fall semester, schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna said Leon County Schools will “not commit to comply with the memo at this time.”
In the letter sent to Florida’s school districts on Wednesday, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran wrote that data show “that district’s face covering policies do not impact the spread of the virus” and Florida’s 67 traditional public school districts should alter their current policies to make face coverings optional for next school year.
Corcoran did not include the data he referenced nor specify the exact sources he used that stand in complete opposition to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. In recently updated recommendations, the CDC continues to urge people to “wear masks in public settings, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people.”
The CDC calls face coverings a “critical tool in the fight against COVID-19″ and says there is mounting evidence that wearing a face mask helps prevent people who have the virus from spreading it.
Corcoran called face coverings a “personal choice” for families and said that sweeping district policies requiring them “serve no remaining good at this point in our schools.”
Corcoran also wrote that face masks inhibit classroom learning and they may prevent a family from returning to the classroom who otherwise would.
Hanna firmly disagreed.
“It’s a heretical statement that should be immediately recanted,” Hanna said Thursday morning. “He’s not qualified to make that statement, just like I’m not qualified to make that statement.”
The Tallahassee Democrat also has reached out to the Leon Classroom Teachers Association for comment. Hanna said the capital county school district will continue to follow CDC guidance for COVID-19 mitigation practices, including masks and social distancing measures.
In February, Leon Schools announced that the district would no longer offer remote Digital Academies for each school in the fall semester. Students who wish to continue to learn remotely have the option of transitioning to Leon County Virtual School or other programs.
“Personally, if COVID is as bad as it is right now next year, then we should definitely wear masks,” Leon High School student Layne Schulte said in response to Corcoran’s memo.
She said she hoped most people would be vaccinated by an August school start date.
“But how can (Corcoran) make this decision right now without knowing anything about what next year will look like?” the 17-year-old said. “And where is he getting this data from because that’s been completely debunked by the CDC.”
In his letter, Corcoran said he reviewed relevant districts’ health data and factored in the percentage of students in the districts who were learning in-person versus the percentage learning at home, and the county’s population.
On Thursday, Hanna said he was confused and caught off guard by Corcoran’s letter.
“(The directive) speaks, really, against all the medical experts I’ve listened to over the course of the next year,” he said. “Even Republicans can agree that masks work.”
Featured image: Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna speaks during a School Board meeting on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Screenshot of Zoom meeting