GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Unlike many districts across Texas, the Georgetown Independent School District in Central Texas says it won’t require masking in the new school year.
Recently, there’s been a tug-of-war between school districts and Gov. Greg Abbott, whose executive order banning mask mandates in public schools has bumped up against the concerns of many school officials and parents.
KXAN Today Anchor Tom Miller spoke to Georgetown ISD Superintendent Fred Brent about the decision.
TM: Many of your neighboring districts have issued a mask mandate — why have you not?
FB: You know, the mask mandate has been a hot topic. We know that face masks do help with preventing the spread of COVID-19 to a degree. There’s some people who have very different beliefs on this. Quite honestly the governor’s order has some recommendations there that we agree with. You know, face masks are so divisive right now. I don’t know why we would introduce that into our schools, in imposing that on people. I think it’s more important that we focus on respecting everyone, that we need to figure out how to navigate the school year together.
TM: Will masks be provided and encouraged or is it more, ‘if you show up wearing one, that’s that?’
FB: If families need facemasks and want them, we will provide them. I know that we have principals meeting with individual parents to help them navigate some of the safety concerns that they have. And I know that there’s some families who have worked with their principals to have a few extra safety precautions in there.
TM: Georgetown ISD doesn’t have a virtual learning option. Why was that decision made?
FB: You’re required to have over 75,000 instructional minutes. If we were able to offer a virtual option, those days in virtual learning are not going to count toward the academic year, so some students would have to go to school longer. The most important thing about virtual learning is that it’s not as effective as in-person learning. If we can get our kids back in school — and we can navigate the safety protocols together — we can help each other figure this thing out, cooperatively as a community. We will find a way to secure the emotional and academic needs of our students.
TM: There’s video that was on Facebook of a rally at Georgetown ISD with teachers and staff. I don’t think anyone — or maybe a handful of people — were wearing masks. Do you worry about the example that that sets?
FB: We like to launch our school year with a convocation. We bring our faculty and staff together to talk about the year and our hopes and dreams for the future. This year we gave everyone a remote option. They could watch it from their classrooms, or they could wear a mask. We provided masks and hand sanitizer at the tables. There was not pressure on anyone to attend, and you know what? We had a lot of people show up, and I was excited about that. They were adults, many of them have been vaccinated, who were allowed to make the decision that was right for them. and you know what, I saw a lot of faculty and staff singing, laughing, hugging, crying, excited to engage. And I was really proud of our district and our people. So I don’t know about setting an example, I think if there was any example that was set I think it’s that we believe in our community, we believe in our staff, we know that we’re a foundation of this community, and we know that our job is to try to find the best way possible to take care of these kids in the pandemic.
Brent said while the new year will bring unique challenges, he’s looking forward to having students and staff back in school.