Leon County Superintendent of Schools Rocky Hanna is pushing back against an effort by state education officials to punish him, including potentially revoking Hanna’s educator certificate, because of issues such as the school district requiring masks to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In an April 4 letter addressed to Hanna, state Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., said “probable cause exists to justify sanctions” against Hanna’s certificate. Included was an administrative complaint filed at the state Education Practices Commission, which can discipline educators.
The complaint, signed by Diaz, listed a series of “material allegations” against Hanna, including that the superintendent defied Gov. Ron DeSantis on the mask issue.
“Respondent (Hanna), in his capacity as Superintendent of Schools for Leon County Florida, has a history of defying the law or failing to follow the law with fidelity as demonstrated in August of 2021 when Respondent mandated the wearing of masks in Leon County schools in conflict with an executive order issued by the Governor,” the complaint said.
Hanna, a former high-school principal who twice has been elected to lead the district, said in a statement Thursday that it is a “sad day for democracy in Florida.”
“How this is being handled and the tactics the Florida Department of Education is using to create this ‘investigation,’ are certainly a serious cause for concern not just for myself, but for any superintendent or school employee in the state of Florida,” Hanna said.
Hanna could face penalties including a reprimand, fine, probation, “restriction of the scope of practice,” suspension of up to five years or permanent revocation of his educator credentials.
The Education Practices Commission, according to the complaint, could impose “one or a combination” of those penalties.
The complaint also included an allegation that Hanna sent an email to teachers that “left an impression” they could ignore state laws that “addressed issues of objectionable curriculum content.” The complaint did not specify the laws, but it referred to “a series of laws codifying and clarifying parental rights of control over sensitive materials presented” to students.
An excerpt from Hanna’s email was included in the complaint.
“I realize this is improper grammar but, ‘You do You’! Continue to teach the standards as you have always done and do not worry for one minute about naysayers political and others who are trying to mislead people and control what you can and cannot say in the classroom,” the excerpt said.
A response to Hanna’s email that was included in the complaint took issue with a phrase Hanna used.
“Respondent’s declaration to teachers that ‘You do You!,’ opens the door to teachers imposing their own individual political and religious views on students and teachers failing to teach with fidelity the Florida standards established” by the State Board of Education, the response said.
Brandi Andrews, who described herself as a parent of Leon County students and an executive board member of the county chapter of the group Moms for Liberty, brought Hanna’s email to the attention of state leaders..
Andrews sent a letter to DeSantis that included a list of complaints about Hanna and requested the superintendent’s removal. The letter, which a spokesman for the Leon school district said was included in a file related to the investigation, was stamped with the slogan “Let’s Go Brandon” — a derogatory slogan used by conservatives to chide President Joe Biden.
Andrews in the letter noted that she had met First Lady Casey DeSantis and mentioned “filming a campaign ad” for the governor.
In his statement, Hanna slammed the “politically motivated letter” and its inclusion of a “hateful and divisively partisan” slogan.
Diaz’s complaint also cited a February email from Hanna that allegedly advised parents of Leon County students about a “civic-engagement event” at the Capitol, with students able to get excused absences from school if they attended. The event, according to the complaint, was a march and rally to protest the education department’s objections to an Advanced Placement African American Studies course.
Diaz wrote that Hanna’s “encouragement of a demonstration objecting to course content review by the State Board of Education, suggests a disregard for the statutory process” and state standards.
But Hanna alleged that the case against him is purely political.
“Let’s be clear, this investigation has nothing to do with these spurious allegations, but rather everything to do with attempting to silence myself and anyone else who speaks up for teachers and our public schools in a way that does not fit the political narrative of those in power,” Hanna said.
Alex Lanfranconi, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said Thursday the agency doesn’t “comment on pending educator misconduct cases.”
“Any teacher with an extensive history of repeated violations of Florida law would be subject to consequences up to and including losing their educator certificate. Nothing about this case is special,” Lanfranconi said in an email.
Hanna was given four options to respond to the administrative complaint: a formal hearing at the state Division of Administrative Hearings; a settlement agreement in which Hanna could “accept certain conditions in order to resolve the case;” an informal hearing before the Education Practices Commission; or the voluntary surrender of his certificate.
“In the next two weeks I must choose one” of the options, Hanna wrote in the statement.