A Florida school superintendent keeps speaking out against DeSantis despite looming sanctions

WFSU | By Lynn Hatter | May 1, 2023

Neither the investigation nor impending sanctions have stopped Rocky Hanna from speaking out. He continued to do so while under state investigation over how his political views have impacted his job.

Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna has been outspoken in his criticism of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the education policies of late pushed by the state’s conservative legislature. Muchof that pushback is at the center of a parent complaint that’s led the Florida Department of Education to announce it will punish Hanna over what it says are the effects of his political views on his job as superintendent. Neither the investigation nor looming sanctions have stopped Leon’s Superintendent from speaking out throughout the course of the investigation.

The complaint by Local Moms for Liberty-Leon member Brandi Andrews lists the many instances Superintendent Rocky Hanna has openly bucked DeSantis and publicly criticized state education policy. Among them: op-eds published in the Tallahassee Democrat, personal posts on Hanna’s Facebook page, the high-profile lawsuit supported by the Leon School District against the state over DeSantis’ mask mandate ban, and allowing students to have excused absences from school earlier this year to a attend protest rallies at the capital.

Andrews’s complaint also mentions a letter Hanna wrote to teachers at the start of the school year telling them that the district would defend them should they run afoul of the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that restricts how aspects of history, race, sexuality, and gender identity are taught in public schools.

“Please be advised, contrary to recent communication, that if there’s an intentional violation of statute and information is taught that’s prohibited by law, you will not be covered under our insurance policy, nor will our attorneys represent anyone in the district who has intentionally broken the law,” saidLeon School Board member Alva Striplin in a January meeting, trying to put distance between the board and Hanna, after he told them he was under investigation.

“I speak this morning for myself, not on behalf of the Leon Country School district or the school board, these are my personal views.”

Rocky Hanna

DOE’s investigation into Hanna has not stopped the superintendent from continuing to speak out against policies he disagrees with, such as a new state law expanding the school voucher program to all students. Hanna, a longtime critic of school vouchers and charter schools, made several appearances before lawmakers to oppose the bill.

“I speak this morning for myself, not on behalf of the Leon Country School district or the school board, these are my personal views,” he said before a Senate committee in March.

A month earlier, Hanna joined the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, for a book giveaway that came during a massive uproar over state policies that have led schools to remove certain books from their libraries.

“What’s happening in the building behind me is concerning to say the least. It’s disappointing we’ve now pitted parents against teachers. And for so long we’ve worked together where the parent and teacher supported the child,” Hanna said.

A since-dismissed lawsuit against the school district was part of the catalyst for last year’s parental rights law which called for schools to notify parents of changes in their child’s wellbeing. A local parent accused the district of trying to help her teenage child transition to a different gender without informing them. The lawsuit was raised in the complaint letter against Hanna.

In a statement issued after DOE issued its findings against him, Hanna said, the investigation was an attempt to silence him. The Department has also accused Hanna of violating the state’s public school safety act by not having enough school officers in 2022. It was an issue already resolved.

According to DOE, the following sanctions are possible: reprimand, fine, probation, restriction of the scope of practice, suspension not to exceed five years, revocation not to exceed ten years, or the permanent revocation of the Educator Certificate.

Hanna is planning to run for re-election next year. Should DOE decide to revoke his teaching credentials, or the governor decide to remove him from office, voters can decide to put him right back there. Leon is one of a few districts where superintendents are elected, not appointed.

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