As some challenge state order, local school districts urge masking | Local News
Galveston County public school districts are not opposing a state order banning the requirement for masks, as some are in Texas, but officials are urging students, faculty and staff to voluntarily follow such practices when classes resume on campus this month.
In May, Governor Greg Abbott deprived local governments, including school districts, of the ability to require masks, a tool some education administrators say has been effective in controlling COVID-19 during the last school year.
As the new school year approaches, resistance to Abbott’s decree has emerged in some of the state’s largest cities.
Houston Independent School District officials said last week they were considering a campus mask mandate, which will be determined at a board meeting this week.
Both the Dallas and Austin ISDs announced masking requirements this week.
In San Antonio, a Bexar County district judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order against Abbott, allowing local districts to issue mask warrants.
EXPRESSION OF CONFORMITY
In virtual announcements, live videos, and material handed out to parents over the past two weeks, local school district officials have stressed they can’t create a mask warrant for students this fall, but have when even encouraged masking.
When students return to the Santa Fe campuses on Thursday, masks will be optional, spokeswoman Patti Hanssard said.
“Our board of directors determined last spring that the masks would no longer be needed,” Hanssard said. “We are still communicating this message. “
However, the Santa Fe ISD encourages masks, Hanssard said.
The Galveston Public School District is also encouraging masks, spokesman Billy Rudolph said.
“Our goal is to create the safest environment possible,” said Rudolph. “If wearing masks helps lessen the transmission of the virus, then we hope people will choose this safety precaution. “
Texas City ISD spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said the masks are helping reduce the spread of COVID in classrooms.
“We as a district say we prefer you to wear a mask because last year when we had sick children, even though we were sending children home to quarantine, less than 1% of the children that we sent home the quarantine tested positive, ”Tortorici said.
This meant the masks kept students from getting sick after being exposed to someone who tested positive, she said.
“The state tied our hands,” Tortorici said.
Texas City resident Tara Webb has taken her children out of the school district for fear of sending them back in person.
Her eighth-grade daughter and sixth-grade son started an online public school program last year and intended to return in person this fall, Webb said.
“We chose not to do brick and mortar because people weren’t getting vaccinated,” Webb said. “They don’t make you wear masks. I can not do that.
Webb has said she is a big supporter of Abbott, but her husband is immunocompromised and she doesn’t want to risk him getting sick, she said.
Galveston special education teacher Crystal Rodriguez is both excited and nervous for the school year, she said.
“The kids are getting a little bit of normalcy,” Rodriguez said. “I am nervous about the way this virus mutates and spreads. “
Rodriguez also has children in the district, all of whom are vaccinated except the youngest, who is 11 and not yet old enough, she said.
Rodriguez doesn’t worry about herself but worries about the children, who are largely unvaccinated.
Scientists were still debating the transmissibility of the virus in children last year, but the delta variant has changed many assumptions, said Dr Philip Keizer, local health authority for the Galveston County Health District.
“We have seen hospitalizations in children, which we have never seen before,” Keizer said.
Keizer expects COVID outbreaks in schools this year, he said.
“Last year the kids were 100% masked,” Keizer said. “There was social distancing. Class sizes were smaller. This is all about to change.
Children are also more likely than before to transmit the disease, he said.
“Delta is a great game changer,” Keizer said. “The delta is much more transmissible.”
In practice, the distancing is unlikely to change much from spring, as most school districts had the majority of students returning to class by the end of the school year.
But the way districts handle quarantines will be a little different from last year.
Dickinson ISD, like other districts, will send students home for at least 10 days if they test positive for COVID, spokeswoman Tammy Dowdy said.
“Employees and students should self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before arriving at a district facility,” said Dowdy. “Any employee or student who feels ill or has a fever of 100 degrees or higher should stay home. “
The Texas Education Agency told local administrators this week that they should advise parents of students who are in close contact with people with COVID-positive and that those parents may choose to keep their students at home for a period of quarantine, during which they would learn online.
In a message to parents this week, Hitchcock’s ISD Superintendent Travis Edwards urged people to mask themselves and get vaccinated.
“I just want to cheer you on, please, please, please take care of yourself,” Edwards said. “If your student has symptoms, keep him at home. “