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Leon County schools drops out of the appeal of judge's decision on student mask mandates

Leon school superintendent Rocky Hanna addresses reporters at a press conference
Leon school superintendent Rocky Hanna addresses reporters at a press conference

Leon’s withdrawal leaves only four districts continuing with the appeal: Miami-Dade, Broward, Alachua, and Duval.

The Leon County school district is dropping its appeal to a ruling over the state’s ban on mask mandates.

An administrative law judge recently ruled against Leon and five other districts and said the state’s Department of Health emergency rule on student masking strikes a balance in keeping kids safe in school.

In a statement announcing the exit, Superintendent Rocky Hanna said the district “no longer believes it's prudent for us to pursue a short-term legal remedy to determine where the line is drawn between state rights and the rights of our local school system.”

Hanna has maintained his reason for bringing the lawsuit is for the courts to decide where the line is between local control and state authority. The superintendent says the district will continue to advocate for local control.

Leon’s withdrawal leaves only four districts continuing with the appeal: Miami-Dade, Broward, Alachua, and Duval. Orange County Schools also dropped out of the appeal.

Attorneys for the school boards took the case Friday to the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach after an administrative law judge upheld the emergency rule. The boards filed a motion Monday asking the appeals court to put the case on a fast track.

The emergency rule, issued Sept. 22, said decisions to opt out of student mask requirements are at the “sole discretion” of parents or guardians. Also, it allowed students to attend school if they have been exposed to COVID-19 but are asymptomatic, preventing districts from requiring quarantines for those students.

The Florida Department of Education has used the rule as a basis to impose financial penalties on districts that have required students to wear masks.

The school boards argued, in part, that the Department of Health overstepped its authority with the rule, which helped carry out a July 30 executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Leon was one of the last districts in the state to maintain a mandatory mask requirement with no parental opt-out for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The district repealed the mandate last month.

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