Lockhart schools issue mask mandate as COVID-19 cases climb

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LOCKHART, Texas (KXAN) — A surge of COVID-19 cases led the Lockhart Independent School District to issue a mask mandate less than two weeks into the school year.

The move is in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s order prohibiting mask requirements.

“You can’t be held accountable for refusing an order that’s illogical and insane,” said Jason Wolcott, who lives near Lockhart High School and supports the mandate.

In a five-to-two vote on Saturday, the board of trustees voted to require face coverings for all students, staff, visitors and parents in schools and buses effective immediately. There will be exemptions based on age, disability, and “documented medical conditions,” the district announced in a letter.

“I’m sure the governor’s not real happy, but everybody’s desperate right now,” said Gary Rodgers, whose two kids graduated from Lockhart High School. “COVID’s scary and, unfortunately, a lot of people are living on the run. The only way people know how to respond is put a mask on and that’s about it.”

On its website, Lockhart ISD posted a notice, announcing the decision along with a link on where to get vaccinated.

“I would definitely support that. It follows the science,” said Wolcott. “People should be vaccinated. The answer is vaccination. Masks are a stop-gap. You know, vaccination’s the solution.”

The move comes less than two weeks after the start of the school year as COVID-19 cases climb. Already, there are 204 active cases. Of those, 181 are students that tested positive. There are currently 781 students at home on quarantine.

“I think it’s horrific,” said Wolcott. “If I had kids I would never send them to school [now]. I would want virtual learning. I mean, it makes perfect sense.”

Lockhart High School has the highest number of cases in the district with 69. Lockhart Junior High School has the second highest with 59.

The surge in cases is also impacting the district in other ways. The virus has led to staffing shortages with bus drivers and substitute teachers, a letter to parents explained, with four classes being closed.

“We expect there will be a need to close more classes in the coming weeks, and if any campus should reach 10 percent or more of students campus-wide who are diagnosed with COVID-19,” Superintendent Mark Estrada wrote in a letter to parents, “the district may need to begin closing campuses as well, transitioning students to online learning during the temporary campus closure.”

“As we continue to face the challenges of the pandemic, I thank you for your support so we can slow the spread of COVID-19 for the safety and well-being of our students and staff,” Estrada added. “Our goal is to provide in-person learning for all students, and we will continue to work hard to protect the continuity of learning and services for our Lions.”

In a sign the district may expect cases to continue climbing, officials will examine the possibility of a return to virtual learning, Estrada said in his letter.

Parents and residents who live near the high school told KXAN off camera that they mostly agree with the mandate.

Rodgers, who lives across the street from the high school, says he personally opposes mandates but understands why the district made the decision it did.

“Personally, I would prefer it be left up to individuals to make that decision,” said Rodgers. “But, from a leadership standpoint, for the school board, I can understand with the explosion of cases. It was the conservative route to take.”

KXAN reached out to Gov. Abbott’s office for comment but did not immediately hear back.

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