Florida School District in Tallahassee Imposes Mask Mandate

Carolyn Crist

August 23, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Masks will be required for students in prekindergarten through eighth grade at Leon County schools in Tallahassee, Florida's capital city, according to The Associated Press.

The school district is the seventh to defy an order by Gov. Ron DeSantis that bans COVID-19 mask mandates. High school students in Leon County are exempt from the policy because they're old enough to be vaccinated.

"I don't believe that masks are necessarily the end-all, be-all, but we know they make a difference," Rocky Hanna, superintendent for Leon County, said in a Facebook livestream on Sunday.

"The vast majority of health care experts tell us they make a difference," he said. "But we also need to get vaccinated."

Hanna said the district has seen positive COVID-19 tests skyrocket since school started again on Aug. 11, with more than 245 cases and 900 students in quarantine. The average daily count last week was 40 cases — double the single-day high of 19 cases during the last school year.

Parents who don't want their students to wear a mask will need to get a signed note from a doctor or psychologist by Friday.

Hanna said he's "in total favor of individual rights and freedoms and the right of parents" but that those "rights end when they infringe on the rights of others."

Leon County, which has 32,000 students, planned to open the school year with a mask mandate but backed down after state education department said districts could only have a mandate if parents could opt out, the AP reported. DeSantis also threatened to cut funding from districts with strict mandates.

DeSantis said last week that districts with a mask mandate are violating a law passed by the Florida legislature earlier this year, the AP reported. A three-day court hearing is slated to begin on Monday for a lawsuit that challenges DeSantis' interpretation of that law. The hearing is also expected to address whether the Florida constitution allows the state to overrule districts on public health issues.

The other districts that have imposed mask mandates are Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Sarasota, which include cities such as Gainesville, St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Hanna said he understands that he could face consequences and is willing to take the risk. He also called on DeSantis to allow local officials to make decisions that fit their communities.

"Governor, just as you fight to protect the sovereignty of the state of Florida, we are simply asking that you have that same consideration for us," he said. "It is never too late to do the right thing."


The Associated Press: "Schools in Florida's capital city impose mask mandate."

Leon County Schools: Facebook livestream, "Community update," August 22, 2021