By Brittany Anderson
After Hays County judge Ruben Becerra’s controversial mask mandate last week, Dripping Springs ISD (DSISD) school board members met in front of a full house for an emergency meeting on Aug. 16 to discuss how the district will move forward in response to the mandate.
Parents and students, some masked, others not, filled the Dripping Springs High School auditorium Monday evening. Across Hays County, a consensus on whether or not masks should be required at school has been unable to be met. But Becerra’s mandate has seemingly made the call: all K-12 students and staff within Hays County, including DSISD, are required to wear masks at school.
The board meeting began with the members going into a closed session to receive legal advice from the district’s attorneys. After an hour and a half of waiting, many audience members became impatient and began yelling for the members to come out and chanting “no more masks,” requiring a police officer to intervene and having to remove one parent from the stage.
Once the board returned from the closed session, the public forum was opened up to over 50 passionate speakers who had 1.5 minutes to speak, although several speakers did not show up. Many expressed their frustration with the meeting, saying that it was unnecessary to be held on the night before school.
Multiple speakers told board members that their children will never wear a mask at school, citing physical, emotional and psychological reasons. Some said that there is no science to back up the effectiveness of masks. Students also spoke of their classroom experiences, saying that schools prioritizing masks causes mental health problems, among others.
Other speakers, however, said that the district’s safety protocols need to be updated and asked that Becerra’s mask mandate be followed. A respiratory nurse at Dell Children’s Medical Center also brought a petition to the board, signed by nearly 780 people. One parent asked how they will be able to safely come together as a community after feeling ‘hate’ in the room, which was met with outbursts.
Following the public forum, board president Barbara Stroud reminded the audience that no action would be taken that night and also asked that they refrain from outbursts during the board’s discussion.
“I think what was clear to all of us is that everything is in limbo right now and there is no clear answer,” Stroud said regarding their discussion during the closed session. “We hope that is cleared up by the court system going forward.”
Superintendent Holly Morris-Kuentz clarified that although Becerra’s mask mandate is in place, DSISD is not changing its protocols at the time.
“Our protocols will currently stay in place as we sent them out and as they are written,” Morris-Kuentz said. “We are strongly encouraging our staff, students and any visitors to voluntarily follow that local health order. There is some question about it, but we are going to let that play out [in the legal system]and follow our health protocols as we’ve communicated them to our families. There are no changes the night before school [starts].”
In Morris-Kuentz’s update sent out following the board meeting, she stated that DSISD would continue to monitor the requirements and recommendations outlined by Hays County.
“We know the return to school this year presents many unique challenges, but we remain optimistic and committed to supporting our students and families,” Morris-Kuentz wrote. “No matter what lies ahead, we will continue to respond together in the best interest of our students.”