Hanna blasts GOP lawmaker as 'bully' for retaliatory state budget item after masks fight

Ana Goñi-Lessan
Tallahassee Democrat

Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna is once again at odds with the state's Republican leaders who, with a new proposed line item in the next state budget, are targeting school districts who defied the governor's ban of mask mandates last year.

House Republicans introduced legislation this week that would slash salaries from school districts, of which Leon was one, that implemented mandatory mask rules after Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibited them in schools. 

In a K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, proposed a line item in the budget — a "Putting Parents First Adjustment" — that would take away $200 million from a dozen school districts that defied the governor's emergency rule that banned mask mandates and give that money to other districts.

"A number of school districts intentionally broke the law, but 55 of them did not," Fine said at the meeting. 

Read more:

House Video Player: House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee - February 3, 2022

Leon County Schools was one of 12 districts that initially mandated masks to combat the COVID-19 delta wave that hit right as the fall 2021 semester started. 

The county was also one of six school districts in a lawsuit that challenged the state's emergency rule, now a law, that banned mask mandates, alleging it was an overreach of authority. 

Fine said the $200 million would be taken from 1,644 employees, not teachers or in-school personnel, who make more than $100,000 a year. That money would be given to the other 55 districts based on enrollment.

"I think we were very clear as a legislature working with our governor that when we set policy we expect it to be followed," Fine said, then he quickly adjourned the subcommittee meeting and said debate would continue at next week's full Appropriations committee meeting.

Rep. Randy Fine, who was hospitalized earlier this year for COVID-19, sits at his desk with a mask on during the Florida Legislature's Organization Session at the Florida Capitol Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.

More:Rocky Hanna on masks in school and Gov. Ron DeSantis

Rocky Hanna calls Rep. Randy Fine 'a childish, immature bully'

Hanna told the Tallahassee Democrat he wasn't surprised by the line item, calling Fine "a childish, immature bully who simply hates public schools. 

He added: "I am simply dumbfounded as to how this man could ever be placed on an education (legislative) committee given his disdain for public schools. Even more disappointing is that he would not be saying these things without the support of the governor, the speaker of the house and other Republican legislators.

"If he is, they need to put a muzzle on him," Hanna said.

Fine responded by saying that, as a product of government schools and the son of a school teacher, he is thrilled that the House is proposing to give $200 million to school districts that chose to put parents first. 

"I think it's pretty clear who is immature and childish here," he said in a text message. "Perhaps the next time career politicians like Hanna are considering breaking the law, they will think twice."

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran withheld the salaries of all Leon County School Board members in October after finding the district in non-compliance.

Richard Corcoran, Florida Education Commissioner and former Speaker of the Florida House, responds to questions asked by the Florida State Presidential Search Committee on Saturday, May 15, 2021.

Back story:  Corcoran: Leon County school district now in compliance after superintendent eased mask rule

In a letter to the district dated Oct. 15, 2021, Corcoran said that even though the district gave parents have the ultimate authority on whether their child wears a mask to school, the policy still required asymptomatic children to wear a mask if they wish to return to school during the seven-day quarantine period.

That, he said, did not comply with the state's own new emergency rule.

The district finally dropped its mask mandate, even for exposed and asymptomatic students in late October, which brought the district into compliance.

In a tweet in early November, Corcoran thanked the Leon County and Brevard County school districts for reversing their mask requirements and empowering parents: "Let’s keep working together to provide students a world-class education." 

The five school board members' salaries were withheld for one month's pay for a total of $17,199 until the state deposited it back on Dec. 9, 2021.

Contact Ana Goñi-Lessan at AGoniLessan@tallahassee.com and follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan. 

Want more news coverage? If you're already a subscriber, thank you! If not, please subscribe using the link at the top of the page and help keep the news you care about coming.