Leon County school board hires firm in fight with state

Special board meeting. Photo credit: Kia Cannon

The Leon County School Board held an in-person special meeting this morning . Most of the board members participated in person and a few joined through Zoom.

The meeting was called to discuss the hiring of the Weiss Serota Law Firm that will help navigate the legal challenges presented by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s requirement that parents are given the ability to opt-out for including their children in a mask mandate.

At the beginning of the meeting, local community members expressed their concerns and gave their comments to the board about the mask policy, COVID cases, sanitization, and also thanked them for their efforts.

Superintendent Rock Hanna said that in 16 days of school, that Leon County has 75% of the positive COVID cases that they had in the last school year, which is why the mask mandate is now a requirement.

As of Wednesday, the board sent a response to the letter that the state Board of Education sent, explaining why they decided to reverse the mask mandate policy from the state. While doing this, they reached out for legal guidance.

Jaime A Cole, a Weiss Serota Law Firm representative, accompanied the meeting via Zoom to help explain their case and what the next step would be.

“Your situation is different because you all have handled the situation carefully,” Cole said. “You started your school year with complying with the interpretation of the emergency rule.”

“Part of the strategy when we drafted the response to the letter was to try to explain how careful you were and to detour them to continuing the enforcement action,” Cole added. “I don’t know if that’s realistic or not, but it’s worth a shot.”

Cole also represents Broward and Alachua County School Boards and compared the two cases and shared some consequences they have faced moving forward.

“Broward County sent their response 18 days ago,” Cole said. “The Board of Education did not agree and decided to place a financial penalty on board members who did not vote in favor of the state. However, Leon County made a compelling case, and are different because we didn’t break the rules and started the school year complying with them.”

Board member Rosanne Wood said that they were elected to protect the students and said she strongly felt actions needed to take place.

“This fight is worth having,” Wood said.

Hanna was adamant and stood strong about needing a mask mandate.

“Your rights affect other rights when you don’t wear your mask to protect others around you,” Hanna said.

At the end of the meeting, It was a unanimous decision that Hanna move forward with the legal services of the Weiss Serota Law Firm to continue pursuing the challenges coming from the Board of Education.

Vice chair Daryl Jones said that it couldn’t be more compelling that they all chose to move forward.

“Im excited about what I believe this moment affords our Leon County School District,” Jones said. “This has opportunity to provide that milestone precedent that will speak for decades to come on what will be the rightful authority to ensure safety for our kids.”