Pants come down: DSISD parents bare their feelings on masks 

By Sahar Chmais

The Dripping Springs ISD meeting got heated when a man took off his shirt and pants to prove a point about masks.

James Akers anecdotally said he ran traffic lights, which almost killed somebody, then parked in a handicapped spot because all the other spots were full just to get to the meeting. Akers was trying to make his point about how sometimes following the rules, such as wearing a mask, is for the benefit of others.

“I do not like government or any other entity telling me what to do,” Akers said. “But sometimes I gotta push the envelope a little bit. I just decided I’m not going to just talk about it, but I’m going to walk the walk. At work they make me wear this jacket; I hate it. They make me wear this shirt and tie; I hate it.”

Some parents cheered Akers on, but there was also scrutiny. Whether it was Akers’ actions, words or a combination of the two, it is not clear. But what was clear is more parents who attended the DSISD Board meeting want a choice for their kids on wearing masks. These pleas came with a lot of emotions.

Watching the entire meeting felt familiar, like a courtroom drama — gasps, cheers, interruptions, applause and the bang of a gavel to stop the outbursts. Yes, the gavel was used on multiple occasions to stop the interruptions, which attendees were instructed not to do at the beginning of the meeting.

But they did not stop.

Never ever, some stated about masks. Some parents shared stories they have spoken before about how the masks are affecting their children. Whether it is affecting their mental, developmental or physical health, they are worried about enforcing masks.

One mother recalled her child getting CO2 poisoning and almost dying because of wearing a mask for too long.

Parents gave passionate speeches on how their children were happier being back in school without the restrictions of masks. They get to see expressions of teachers and classmates; some parents of children with developmental issues said this has been much better for their education.

Another concern parents expressed was how COVID-19 and its health restrictions have driven children to suicidal thoughts and potential suicide.

The bottom line was that they did not want masks to be enforced in schools and their rights taken away. Some speakers against enforcing masks in schools said there is data that shows masks do not work to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

No one presented the data they spoke of, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many studies have shown that masks, along with other preventatives such as social distancing and frequent hand washing, are effective in reducing the transmission of the virus.

“When prevention strategies are consistently and correctly used, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the school environment is decreased,” the CDC report reads. “Use of multiple strategies – also called layered prevention – provides greater protection in breaking transmission chains than implementing a single strategy. CDC guidance recommends layering multiple prevention strategies, especially in areas with moderate to high community transmission, low vaccination rates, and for people who are not fully vaccinated.”

There were some attendees who wanted masks mandated throughout the district due to the health risks of COVID-19. Children are the least group affected by the virus, but it does not mean they are fully immune. And some parents have immunocompromised children or family members, but want their kids to be back on campus with these safety measures in place.

One speaker said they would rather find out later in life that masks were useless than take the risk of people being harmed in the present.

A few parents had children already exposed to the virus several times in the week that school has been back in session. They worry that if the virus continues to spread, teachers and students will miss many school days and will be difficult to make up missed lessons in the future.

A medical professional, Grant Tait, said the rise in COVID-19 cases has left no room in the ICU and a record of patients not being admitted into the hospital because there is no room. With the Delta variant, some parents, including Tate, were worried about the spread and effects on children that have not been extensively studied.

Emotions were high. Parents laid out their arguments over a span of two hours; sometimes they were respectfully heard, but sometimes they were disrupted. In the end, nothing changed.

The district will not make changes to their masking policy, which is masks optional but highly recommended.

As for Akers, after the request of board members and two officers nearing him, he wore his clothes and walked away from the microphone, giving room for the other opinions to flow.

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About Author

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Sahar Chmais holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been covering cities in Hays County for one year, touching on residents' struggles and successes, city issues, COVID-19 and more. Prior to reporting on the local spectrum, Sahar reported for a national news organization, covering gun violence. Sahar enjoys working as a local reporter because she gets to work with real people and their stories.

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