Sitting through more than an hour of comments from 35 parents, the Dripping Springs ISD trustees Monday night got the point that some parents don’t like the face mask regulations in schools.
And they are demanding those requirements be removed.
The parents, many voicing the same concerns, said that masks were harmful to their children’s development and physical health. These parents also believe that enforcing a mask rule for children under 10 goes against Governor Greg Abbott’s rules. The parents’ goal was clear – they do not want children to be forced to wear masks. Some parents wanted the mandate removed for children under 10, some wanted it removed all together and some asked that masks and social distancing get revoked.
Under Texas Education Agency’s guidelines, there is no specification of age. Abbott stated that children under the age of 10 do not have to wear face masks, but he has also left many of the health choices up to school districts.
“The policy is lawful is under the governor’s orders and TEA guidance,” said Carrie Kroll, DSISD board president. “We’ve consulted with legal counsel on that and it is a legal policy in terms of masking required. And it’s based on CDC and DSHS guidance.”
Some complaints from parents include that children need to see the face of their teacher to better understand instructions. They also believe that children should see each other’s facial expressions to learn social behavior. Another common argument was that children’s mental well-being is declining due to these restrictions.
“It is my professional opinion and that of many other professionals that we now lead the way in opening up our schools without these mental health damaging effects,” Stefani Reinold, psychiatrist and mother, addressed the board. “We have a higher likelihood of dying from driving our kids to school in a car accident than dying from COVID in school. Let me remind you also that schools exist for the betterment of our children not for the protection of teachers.”
Reinold proposed that removing restrictions would protect teachers and staff if they allow herd immunity to take its place.
Herd immunity happens if enough people become immune to a disease, severely reducing its spread. When enough people are immune, the community is protected, even those who do not have immunity. Usually herd immunity is achieved through vaccination but can happen through natural infection.
Parents also shared concern about the physical effects of wearing a mask all day. They have observed their children coming home with dirty masks and find that this is more harmful than helpful.
“When my 8-year-old son comes homes from school every day with a mask he’s been wearing all day,” parent Aaron Buzali said, “I’m disgusted with the amount of food, dirt and other filth that accumulates on his mask after a whole day of wearing it.”
Buzali explained that he sends multiple masks with his child to school, but they still accumulate filth; he fears that masks are doing more harm than good.
To avoid the mask mandate at school, some parents have pulled their children out of the district and are homeschooling their children.
“I was disappointed that Dripping Springs does not seem to be a leader in supporting the rights of our children and their truly draconian mask requirement measures,” said parent Tara Mangione, “to the point that I un-enrolled my middle schooler who would be in seventh grade this year and chose to homeschool.”
This parent said she has been an advocate for more parents taking their children out of DSISD and opting for homeschool.
Parents stated many points throughout the hour of commentary, but due to the Texas Open Meetings Act, board members cannot address all the issues. Kroll tried to address the concerns as much as allotted.
“Our goal is to protect… students and educators as well as all of our other employees,” Kroll said. “It is working to protect people… fewer people have had to go into quarantine because of the masks they’re wearing, otherwise we would see more students and teachers removed from the classroom.”
So far, the recorded number of COVID-19 infections in DSISD has been 21 student cases and two employee cases. Counties with less than 20 active cases are not required to follow the mask order set by the governor, but Hays County has 397 active cases as of Oct. 28.
“We will remain vigilant, but this is a pandemic,” Kroll stated in her response. “We will remain nimble to the disease as we learn more about it and are able to change course. I appreciate all of your very passionate information, I thank you for taking part of the process and we’ll just encourage you to continue to be patient with the current environment since it is an unprecedented situation we find ourselves in.”