ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — The Round Rock Independent School District Board of Trustees will discuss and possibly vote on rolling back some of the mask policies required in schools.
It would be one of the first districts in Central Texas to relax requirements for masking indoors.
Danielle Weston, one of the RRISD trustees, is looking at optimistic statewide and local COVID-19 data to make her suggestions. Specifically, she would like to see that masks are not required for all students 10 and under and for mask mandates to be lifted for all ages, when outdoors, no matter the physical distancing between them.
In a message to her fellow trustees via the RRISD bulletin board, she said her edits “address legitimate learning, and development concerns for our youngest students” and “address safety concerns as temperatures rise here in central Texas.”
“Given the drastic decline in the data including cases, hospitalizations and deaths statewide and here locally, it’s time to pivot to data driven decisions when it comes to requiring children to wear a mask in order to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education,” Weston said.
She also pointed to the Texas Education Agency guidelines, statewide instructions that require mask wearing indoors “wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.” Weston said the fact that Round Rock students are having to wear masks indoors, even when they are isolated and well beyond six-feet separation, contradicts what even the state recommends.
“Following TEA Public Health Guidelines is entirely appropriate as our starting point. Given the fact that the forced masking of children is a violation of Texas law, we as leaders must be looking for an exit ramp to this practice as soon as possible. The data speaks for itself and provides that exit ramp,” Weston said.
Children desperately need to return to their classrooms, reengage with their peers and community and breathe freely. The mental health and academic progress of our youth has taken a beating over the last year. I want these things reversed ASAP and will advocate and vote to that end.Danielle Weston, RRISD Board Trustee
However, some families and even fellow board members believe removing proven health guidelines this close to the end of the school year is counterintuitive.
Christina Mansson, a Round Rock ISD parent of two, created the petition “Keep Masks for Students, Teacher, and Staff at Round Rock ISD”, asking the trustees to keep the current mask mandate in place.
“If the children bring it home to parents who may not have been able to secure a vaccine appointment yet or are still in the process of building immunity, they could make their parents sick,” Mansson said. “The teachers here have done so much to make sure they are following rigid COVID-19 protocols and to keep our kids safe.”
RRISD Board Member Tiffanie Harrison agreed, saying the board should be focusing on some of their more pressing tasks, like finalizing district goals and hiring a new superintendent to lead administrators into the fall 2021 semester.
She felt the district reached a mutual compromise in late March when students were given the option to remove their masks during outdoor activities provided they could appropriately socially distance from others.
“We have a lot on our plate and yet here is this mask issue again,” Harrison said. “I don’t feel that it’s time to change course knowing that there are parents that were waiting for this last quarter to send their kids back. Some very vulnerable students from very vulnerable families.”
A separate petition was also created, “Mask Choice for Round Rock ISD” which asks the district to give families an option to wear a mask during school hours.
Trustee Harrison said she will listen to the public testimony and discussion on Thursday, but she hopes the trustees will move forward without making any changes.
“This doesn’t feel like the right time to me, this feels like a distraction, and I really hope my colleagues and I can regroup around what we need to be doing,” Harrison said.
The board will hear public comment and discuss this at the regularly scheduled board meeting on Thursday. It’s important to note the Round Rock ISD Administration would like to keep the current mask mandates in place, saying, in part, “while the Board of Trustees has the authority to alter or remove our current mask protocol, Round Rock ISD District administration strongly recommends it should remain as-is for the remainder of the spring semester.”