Dripping Springs ISD makes masking optional starting May 28

Dripping Springs ISD will lift its masking requirement beginning May 28,l the day of Dripping Springs High School's graduation ceremony. The DSISD board of trustees voted unanimously to make masks optional for all students, staff and visitors at a special called meeting on May 20.

The vote followed Gov. Greg Abbott's recent executive order prohibiting school districts and other local entities from enforcing mask mandates, effective for schools on June 4.

"Masks will continue to be allowable for students and staff who choose to wear masks," Superintendent Holly Morris-Kuentz said at the meeting. "We are exploring alternatives for families who want to remain masked. I've had a lot of creative ideas sent to me."

While masks will be required through the last day of the current school year on May 27, DSHS' graduation at Tiger Stadium May 28 will be mask-optional, with social distancing and other health protocols in place. Masks will not be required during summer school or district-sponsored summer camps. According to Morris-Kuentz, a recent survey of DSISD teachers showed that 80% were open to a mask-optional learning environment.

The district's other COVID-19 health and safety protocols, including regular sanitation and contact tracing practices, will remain in place for the time being. However, staff will continue to assess those protocols over the summer.

Many district parents at the meeting urged the board to lift the mask requirement immediately or said they were disappointed the district had not made the change even sooner.

"My third grader is really struggling. He is extremely bright and has overcome more hurdles than the typically developing child. The stress of COVID, seasons of remote learning and the masks for him specifically have been a detriment to his development," said Ashley Hight. "I'm concerned about my children, emotionally, socially, and—what hits the most—mentally. The district needs to bridge the gaps next year."

Other parents, however, expressed disappointment that Abbott's executive order had left districts without a choice to continue mask requirements, and urged the board to prioritize other health and safety precautions, including Kristin Quick, who said she has two children with high-risk medical conditions.

"Masks and virtual learning are no longer available to us; therefore I urge you to do whatever you can to continue to keep our children safe as much as possible . . . my child's health and education is just as important as theirs," Quick said, gesturing to a group of parents who spoke in favor of repealing the district's mask requirement.

Morris-Kuentz said that a virtual education option is unlikely for the 2021-22 school year.

"As we move forward, we're expecting smaller enrollments [in at-home learning]. With that smaller enrollment, when you're trying to dedicate staff to online, that cost goes up, and so correspondingly I think that's going to make staffing for a virtual environment unachievable," she said. "Right now, there's also not a commitment from [the Texas Education Agency] or from the legislature that a virtual enrollment would be funded, so I'm not seeing that it's going to be feasible for Dripping Springs ISD to be able to fund and establish a virtual environment for next year."
By Olivia Aldridge

Multi-Platform Journalist

Olivia hosts and produces Community Impact Newspaper's podcasts, The Austin Breakdown, The Houston Breakdown and The DFW Breakdown. She launched the podcasts after nearly three years as a reporter for the newspaper, covering public health, business, development and Travis County government for the Central Austin edition. Olivia worked as a reporter and producer for South Carolina Public Radio before moving to Texas.