Superintendents mentioned the need to protect students.
At risk of financial consequences from the state of Florida, two school district inspectors refuse to allow parents to opt out of their children from masking mandates throughout the district for no medical reason.
If you do it directly, you defy an emergency rule issued Friday by the Florida Department of Health that requires parents to stop their children from wearing masks in the classroom.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a decree issued July 30, gave the state education commissioner the green light to deny money to districts that do not comply with the rules to protect “parents’ rights … to make health decisions for their younger children.”
Some of Florida’s largest school districts, seemingly appalled by the threat of losing money, allow parents to opt out of their children from masking mandates.
But superintendents Rocky Hanna and Carlee Simon, from Leon and Alachua counties, are forcing the hand of the state.
At a news conference Monday, Hanna cited the need to keep students safe as Florida reports an increased number of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in children.
The state has the highest number of confirmed pediatric hospitalizations from the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services.
“If something happened and things went sideways for us this week and next week when we started school, and banning us from losing a child to this virus, I can not just blame the governor of the state. I can not do that, ”said Hanna.
He added: “If there’s an exit and I did not take it out and I did not do what was best for the children here in Tallahassee and Leon County, it’s on me.”
Parents of K-8 students in Leon County can submit a doctor-signed form referring to a medical need for their child to waive a mask at school. They can also transfer their child to another school district through the Hope Scholarship, a program designed to protect bullied students that now, thanks to a new state rule, protects students from “COVID-19 harassment” as mask mandates.
DeSantis’ office indicated in a statement following Hanna’s announcement that any funding consequences would not affect students.
Instead, according to DeSanti’s press secretary Christina Pushaw, “the State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board as a narrowly tailored means of addressing the decision-makers that led to the offense.”
Simon, whose district is home to Gainesville, confirmed she will also deny parents the chance to opt out of their children from mask mandates for no medical reason.
“I want to listen to the experts and let them guide this, and I think that’s what we need to do. The safety and security and the quality of the teaching hours is what matters right now,” Simon told ABC News . “I know it looks like I’m combative and I do not want to be combative, but that’s the responsibility I have in this position.
Asked whether she fears losing some of her salary as punishment, Simon said: “I would be interested in the legal argument for how that could happen.”
COVID-19 has shaken Alachua County Public Schools: In the past two weeks, two employees have died, 32 have tested positive and 85 more have had to quarantine. Seven students have also tested positive, Simon said.