Dripping Springs man bares thoughts on mask mandates at heated school board meeting

Hays

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) — Less than half an hour into Dripping Springs ISD’s board meeting Monday, 15-year resident and DSISD parent James Akers shared his thoughts on the latest discussion surrounding mask requirements in schools.

“I do not like government, or any other entity — just ask my wife — telling me what to do,” he said. “But, sometimes I’ve got to push the envelope a little bit, and I’ve just decided that I’m going to not just talk about it, but I’m going to walk the walk.”

Akers then began removing articles of clothing as he outlined all the different laws and social expectations in place — stopping at red lights, wearing professional attire at work and not parking in handicapped parking spots — people are expected to follow. Masks, he said, are one of those things people should abide by in the effort of doing the right thing for the safety of others.

Akers ended his public comment sans shirt or pants, standing in a swimsuit as meeting attendees laughed, applauded or shouted at him.

“It’s simple protocol, people,” he said. “We follow certain rules. We follow certain rules for a very good reason.”

Officers did not remove him, but he put his clothes back on at Board President Barbara Stroud’s request before leaving the microphone.

“Mr. Akers, I understand — I believe you’re a swimmer — but if you would mind putting your pants back on for a comment, that would be appreciated,” she said.

A spokesperson for Dripping Springs ISD declined to comment on Akers’ public remarks.

Following his public comment, several community members commented on social media and said Akers’ actions were inappropriate in the public forum setting, while others commended his efforts.

In a follow up interview with KXAN Tuesday, Akers said the decision to speak before the board came as tensions and divisions ran high in the district. Masks are currently recommended as an option by DSISD officials but are not mandated for students, staff and other district personnel.

“There are too many voices out there that I think are digging in for political reasons, and absolutely just not thinking about the common sense decisions we make every day to comply with everything from driving down the road and being safe and courteous to other drivers to not parking in handicapped spots,” he said. “All these rules that we’re given every day that we follow, because they make sense.”

The public comment came during a DSISD agenda review meeting Monday, with agenda items including superintendent and financial reports along with a presentation on COVID-19 protocols.

Holly Morris-Kuentz, DSISD superintendent of schools, said there was a call with representatives of the Texas Education Agency Aug. 19 that provided some new, additional public health guidance.

“The new piece for us that we were not anticipating in that meeting that was interesting was that there’s a new requirement for staff who are considered a close contact,” she said. “So when a staff member is considered a close contact, they’re recommending now that they quarantine, which previously before and even in their current guidance, they say schools are not required to contact trace, but staff who are close contacts, which would require contact tracing, are required to quarantine or recommended to quarantine. They don’t say required.”

Staff then returning to work are required to test every other day, she added.

“So this was an interesting piece for us, because we don’t have in-district COVID testing or a way to test staff every day,” she said. “So the Texas Department of Emergency Management actually was offering public schools rapid test, and at the time, our nurses were not interested in administering rapid tests. That’s another big duty to put on them, but because this came out, we went ahead and got online.”

The district has since ordered tests through TDEM, which includes training procedures district personnel are required to undergo. Remaining questions to be addressed include whether DSISD will designate COVID-19 testing hubs at specific campuses ,or administer tests across the district as part of nurses’ duties.

“Again, it’s one of those things that really, they haven’t given us a lot of guidance or procedures on,” she said. “They’ve just added a line that says ‘go do this,’ and it wasn’t really well timed anyways.”

TEA also informed district superintendents on the Aug. 19 call the agency will not be providing waivers for school closures.

“If schools close, then they are expecting them to have minutes within their calendar or to make up those days,” she said. “As we’re talking about COVID and wanting to keep schools open and wanting to keep kids healthy, we want to keep the kids healthy for all reasons.”

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