Leander ISD “highly recommends” students, staff and families wear masks to school to prevent further coronavirus spread, according to new district guidance. Students will return to school in two weeks Aug. 12.

"With more than 21,000 students in our district under the age of 12, over half of our student population is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated," the district said in a release.

Leander ISD updated its COVID-19 protocols this week to include green, yellow and red transmission levels. The district is at its yellow level as of July 28. This means indicators—such as the average of new infections, the situation in the area or state, and the vaccination rate and access—are "moderate or worsening."

In the yellow stage, masks are recommended indoors; desks may be arranged as needed with 3 feet of distance if possible; and twice daily handwashing sessions are recommended for elementary students, according to the district's protocols.

On July 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for all individuals—including fully vaccinated individuals—to wear masks in K-12 schools. The update also recommends fully vaccinated people in areas with "high" or "substantial" levels of transmission wear masks in indoor, public settings. Travis and Williamson counties have high levels of transmission as of July 28.

During the July 22 board of trustees meeting, officials said the district will notify families of COVID-19 cases at a campus level, but not at a classroom level in the new school year. Local health districts, which are the Williamson County and Cities Health District and Austin Public Health, will manage contact tracing—which was previously done by the district. The district's COVID-19 dashboard will continue to be updated starting Aug. 5. Additionally, daily self-screening forms will not be required.

Superintendent Bruce Gearing said at the meeting that the district’s goal has been to remain open because “in-person learning is extremely important for all of our students and for our staff.”

“But in order to remain open and keep everybody safe, it is going to be critical that we continue to use the protocols that worked so well for us for the last 18 months,” Gearing said. “So we are going to recommend that everybody wear masks.”

Public school districts cannot mandate mask requirements, per Gov. Greg Abbott’s May 18 executive order. Thirty-two Texas state representatives are calling on Abbott and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath to allow public schools to instate mask mandates and virtual learning options for the 2021-22 school year.

Leander ISD is offering a virtual option for the next school year, but the 300 seats have already been filled, and a waitlist is in place with about 200 students. Nearby, Round Rock and Austin ISDs will have limited virtual programs, too.

The Leander school district will host a vaccine clinic Aug. 5 from 4-8 p.m. at the LISD Technology Building at 315 S. West Drive, Leander. Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be available. No insurance or identification is required.

Claire Shoop and Amy Rae Dadamo contributed to this report.