Who is Lila Hartley? Florida girl, 12, writes letter urging school board to make masks mandatory

'This pandemic is still around. People are still dying and getting sick. Masks save lives, and I don't want my brother to die,' she wrote

                            Who is Lila Hartley? Florida girl, 12, writes letter urging school board to make masks mandatory
Lila Hartley's letter to Duval County School Board goes viral (WJCT NEWS)

A Florida girl, 12, has urged her school district to implement a mask mandate in schools in a letter she wrote to the Duval County school board and superintendent last week. Lila Hartney from Jacksonville, Florida, decided to take matters into her own hands after learning that schools in her district wouldn't require masks for the upcoming school year. 

"I would like to encourage the requirement of masks at school in Duval County. Right now, especially while the Delta variant is surging, hospitalizing and killing so many kids. I really believe masks should be required," she wrote in the letter, which was shared with 'Good Morning America'. When GMA reached out to Hartley to ask why she had penned the letter, she explained, "This pandemic is still around. People are still dying and getting sick. Masks save lives, and I don't want my brother to die." Some other people who have made headlines recently regarding their stance either for or against masks include Bethany Mandel, Linda Sexton, Christina Reszetar and Kelci Cashman


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Who is Lila Hartley?


Lila, who is in the seventh grade, was mainly concerned about her 10-year-old brother. While she and the rest of her family have gotten the Covid-19 vaccine, her brother is ineligible to do so and hence she, being the big sister, did not want anything happening to her younger sibling.

"Right now, especially as the Delta variant is surging, hospitalizing and killing so many kids, I really believe that masks should be required," Lila wrote in her letter. "I am so worried that if masks are not required my brother could go to school one day and the next be dying in the hospital. We are siblings so we have our rivalries but I don't know what I would do if he died, especially if it was caused by a place that means so much to him, school."


Lila's letter went viral and after that, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services invited her to a meeting on Monday, August 10. Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is a 2022 gubernatorial candidate, lauded Lila for speaking up on behalf of many kids across the state and mentioned that her nieces and nephews and stepchildren have similar concerns about the mask mandate not being implemented in schools. Lila told Fried she has friends who have caught Covid-19. "One of my friends was so close to being able to get their vaccine and then they got sick," she said.

She said that she wanted kids to know that masks help everyone, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not. A Duval County School Board member responded to Lila's letter, the 12-year-old said. "They said they are taking this seriously and listening to the science," she said. 

Ron DeSantis' executive order

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the media about the cruise industry during a press conference at PortMiami on April 08, 2021 in Miami, Florida (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that barred school districts in his state from implemented a blanket mask mandate on students. He even went as far as threatening to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members who violate the law. The executive order comes amid an uptick in child Covid-19 cases when it comes to the Delta variant. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 93,824 child Covid-19 cases were reported between July 29 and August 5, with children representing 15% of the weekly reported cases.

The Duval County Public Schools held a two-hour-long public meeting last Tuesday, where a number of people expressed their opinions on masks. Lila's father Matt Hartley was one of the people in the meeting advocating in favor of masks, while Lila and her brother demonstrated with a number of others outside the meeting. "We wanted to support dad because he's been working hard," Lila told GMA.

After that they put out the 'Student Mask/Facial Covering Opt-Out Form' with the announcement that facial coverings are strongly recommended, but "parents who would like to opt their child out of wearing a face covering can do so." "We're fighting for ourselves, but we're fighting for other kids too," Matt told GMA. "That's our M.O. — we love our neighbors." He added that while the vote did "make things a lot better with masking," he's "disappointed" as it still leaves a lot of room for people to not wear them.

Fried said that school districts shouldn't focus on the political and financial ramifications when they decide to defy DeSantis' order, calling it unconstitutional. "We will get your back because you are doing what's right for our children," she said. "This schtick is unacceptable — this authoritarian 'It's his way or the highway,' and at the expense of our children. You're not hurting the school board members by taking away funding. You're hurting Lila and her friends. I need our school boards to understand that you're making a decision whether to follow the governor and to put political and potential ramifications on the line or do what's best for the health and safety of our children."