Austin ISD changes mask policy, no masks required at outside recess

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin ISD families tell KXAN the district announced changes to its mask policy Wednesday morning (effective Wednesday) and will no longer require students to wear masks at during outdoor physical activities like recess.

According to emails Wednesday morning both from Austin ISD to parents and from school principals to parents, these are the changes the district is making:

  • Students may remove their masks while actively engaged in outdoor physical activities, such as recess, WOW, outdoor physical education. 
  • 6 feet physical distance should be maintained while masks are off.
  • Ability to remove masks outdoors does not include students sitting or standing in small groups in close proximity to each other, for example between periods in a courtyard or outdoor walkways.

This is an opt-out policy meaning parents must tell their school and complete a Google form before their child will be allowed to take off their mask. The form requires parents to submit their name, email and phone number, as well as the student’s name, student number, and teacher’s name. They then have to consent to allowing their child to take off their mask while outside.

Email sent to parents of students at an Austin ISD elementary school on May 12, 2021 (KXAN Photo)
Email sent to parents of students at an Austin ISD elementary school on May 12, 2021 (KXAN Photo)

Alexandra Copeland, Austin ISD’s director of Health Services, also announced changes regarding things like graduation, campus tours and quarantining:

  • End-of-year activities such as promotion ceremonies are allowed outdoors.
  • Quarantining is now required for 10 days, except in cases when masks were not worn consistently or high-risk people who have not been vaccinated are involved, which would require a 14-day quarantine.
  • Tours and campus visitors for educational activities and instructional purposes with prior approval are allowed if COVID-19 screening procedures (including screening and temperature checks) are involved.

Austin ISD said these changes are in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Austin Public Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“If there are any concerns or comments, please reach out to your campus so we can provide that clarification and have that dialogue with families,” Copeland said.

Many parents felt blindsided by this decision, calling it a “gut-punch” after the district made a hard push for families to return to in-person learning for the final six weeks of the school year. Others criticized the district for the abrupt announcement with little-to-no advance notice.

Melissa Ellis, a parent to three Austin ISD students, received the first email notification about the policy change at 9:17 a.m. on Wednesday morning, more than an hour and a half after her third grader was dropped off at school. She said if she would have known beforehand, she might have thought twice about sending him to school.

“The policy was announced, and it went into effect the same day,” Ellis said. “When I got that email, all I knew was that my child was already at school, and it was quite possible that he’d be sent out to recess, and kids would be whipping off their masks.”

Copeland said the decision to change the policy was made on Tuesday, and the subsequent announcement for families came “immediately.” She added the opt-in process buys more time for families to decide how they want to proceed.

“We made sure to notify families, we’ve put those safeguards in place so parents can have time to process and make the best decision for their student,” Copeland said.

Ellis said she suspects the reoccurring pattern of poor messaging to families is a symptom of a disorganized communications department.

“They don’t think about the implications for families. You need time to prepare your family; you need time to prepare your child,” Ellis said. “There’s three weeks left in the school year. Literally, to the day. Why is today the day they have to all of a sudden start changing policies? It’s been working fine. Just leave it alone!”

AISD said if parents have questions or concerns, they should contact the AISD Department of Health Services.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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