DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) — There’s a push in the Dripping Springs Independent School District to allow kids under 10-years-old to come to school without a mask.

Dozens of parents spoke in favor of the move for about an hour Monday night to school board members.

“I’m not an anti-masker. We wear our masks; we go to the grocery store,” said Monica Willis. “It’s the mandate of forcing our students to wear them 8+ hours a day with 20 minutes to breathe at lunch—all day long, every day. It’s impacting their moods; it’s impacting their potential health.”

She sent her Dripping Springs third grader back to campus in September, because virtual learning wasn’t working.

“I don’t even know how to describe it as a parent watching your child melt into almost a state of despair in front of your eyes,” Willis said.

But now, she has another concern for her daughter.

“She says, ‘Well, we all sneak air breaks,” Willis recalled. “She said, ‘Well, I go to the bathroom whenever I can, so I can take my mask off, because I just need to breathe.”

Willis says she’s already pulled her preschooler out of the district and enrolled him in private school, where masks are not required.

Psychiatrist Dr. Stefani Reinold says she removed her second grader from the district last week. Reinold says virtual learning was also not beneficial her daughter either, and her hesitancy to put her back on campus revolved around the emotional effects of wearing a mask.

“There’s so many layers to that argument, but I think the first is that you’re developing this culture of fear,” Reinold said.

She says she’s seen a surge in adolescent patients since the pandemic, who tell her the main problem is social isolation. Reinold says she thought it would get better once school started, but she doesn’t think it has.

“When we’re not allowing play, and we’re not allowing the seeing of facial expressions, we’re not allowing touching each other, you know, kids are allowed to be kids, that’s going to cause a lot of problems down the road and adulthood,” Reinold said.

Other parents, like Sharrah Pharr, say if the board allows students to unmask, she won’t send her virtual learner back as planned in January.

Sharrah Pharr is an education consultant and says she supports Dripping Springs ISD’s current mask policy, which she hopes will still be in place in January when she hopes to send her son back to campus. (Photo: Sharrah Pharr)

“We would stay home. For sure,” Pharr said. “We know that once those kids leave… the campus walls, they go home to family; they go home to moms, dads, grandmothers.”

While Willis and Reinold say schools have shown to not be “super-spreaders,” Pharr and school board president Carrie Kroll insist masks keep everyone safer.

“When we’ve had the regular, daily cases that we’ve had, fewer people have had to go into quarantine because of the masks that they’re wearing. Otherwise, we would see more students and teachers removed from the classroom,” Kroll said during Monday night’s school board meeting.

“I think it’s irresponsible. I think it’s selfish to not be able to do all that you can do for your fellow neighbors, classmates, colleagues,” Pharr said.

Reinold says even if the mask policy doesn’t change overnight, at least seeing a plan from the district would give her hope.

“Let’s try elementary school, opening things to a new normal. Now let’s try junior high—we can do this in tiers, but we just need a vision of what’s going on and what’s going to happen moving forward,” she said.

The school district’s COVID-19 dashboard indicates they’ve had six COVID-19 cases on elementary campuses since August, eight cases in middle school and four in high school.

So far, there’s no indication the district plans to change its mask policy.

Wimberley ISD doesn’t require students under 10-years-old to wear a mask. A spokesperson there says they still encourage students to do so. He says the district has given all students lanyards to help keep track of their masks.

Between its two elementary campuses, Wimberley ISD has had a total of two confirmed COVID-19 cases since school started in person in August.

Superintendent resigns

The Dripping Springs school board also accepted the resignation of its superintendent, Todd Washburn, who has held the position for less than a year.

Members did not indicate the resignation was due to the push for unmasking students.

In a statement, Washburn said the move was due to “family health circumstances.”

“After reflecting on and discussing these professional and personal contrasts with my family, I have
conceded it is in the best interest of students, teachers, staff and community for me to permanently step away from the superintendent’s role,” he wrote.

“For Mr. Washburn, as a first-time superintendent, transitioning during a pandemic proved to be difficult. Given all available alternatives, the Board believes this decision to be the best path forward for DSISD,” the board wrote in a statement.

The board also unanimously approved the appointment an interim superintendent for the remainder of the school year.