By Brittany Anderson
A letter demanding local control over COVID-19 protocols drafted by the Hays CISD board and Superintendent Dr. Eric Wright was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on Aug. 30.
At the board meeting Aug. 30, some board members were outspoken about their desire for a mask mandate, despite their hands being tied legally.
“Once upon a time, people told us they wanted us to have local control,” said board member Merideth Keller. “I guess that was only when it was going to be controlled one way.”
While Abbott’s Executive Order GA-36 bans mask mandates, the district is looking for other solutions to mitigate the spread of COVID as the Texas Legislature debates what districts can and cannot do. For weeks, parents have attended board meetings to state their case for or against a mask mandate. During this meeting, all five parents that showed up to speak were in favor of a mandate.
Board president Vanessa Petrea expressed her frustration with how the board is unable to legally handle the situation, saying that she is going “on the record” in favor of a mask mandate and that local control is desired and needed in order to enforce one.
“They want this mask mandate prohibition as law, not just a governor’s order,” Petrea said. “That’s a problem for us. This is a scorched earth legal effort by our governor. Know that.”
As active COVID infections in the district more than doubled into the second week of school, from 56 to 134 cases, many parents have expressed concern about the spread of misinformation around the virus, such as the lack of mask efficacy.
Parent Marc van Bree said that he feels that those who are seeking a mask mandate and other COVID safety protocols are having to do all the work to achieve that. A mask mandate with a choice to opt-out will ‘flip the script,’ he added
“I feel like those who want public safety have to jump through all the hoops,” van Bree said. “Those who simply yell ‘freedom’ get to do whatever they want with disregard to public safety. They should have to put in the work.”
Community focus needs to be on what they can collectively do to keep kids in class, and masks are a solution for this, Keller said. Telling a student to put peanuts away because their neighbor is allergic isn’t infringing upon their rights, but preventing their neighbor from going into anaphylactic shock — and the same could be said about masking, she explained.
“If we celebrate [masks]and make that part of our culture, that it’s good to help our neighbors, we’ll be a lot nicer to each other,” Keller said.
Keller acknowledged that masks have an impact on mental health, but that there is a hierarchy of needs, and services like social-emotional learning can help alleviate problems that can arise because of mask wearing.
“Not going to class, having your classes shut down, not being able to participate or not being healthy are higher up on the hierarchy of needs,” Keller said. “We can address problems that I personally had in my own home, about masks being very difficult on kids and how they feel in their connection to school and teachers, with mentors and counseling.”
During the meeting, Wright gave updates on district-wide COVID protocols, including potential upcoming vaccine clinics, plans for classroom air purifiers, mask availability on campuses, spaced out lunch schedules, bus and classroom seating arrangements and what will warrant a campus closure due to COVID.
Additionally, Hays CISD will begin updating its COVID case dashboard daily. Letters sent home with students at the end of the day will be revised and reflect classrooms with COVID cases.
Board members reiterated that they are keeping an eye on the courts and will only be able to call a special meeting regarding masks if they receive legal cover and the number of COVID cases continues to rise.
Until then, the district will continue to highly encourage masks, but cannot enforce them.