Due to the large number of people who signed up to give statements, the board voted 5-2 to limit public comment to 1 minute, with the "no" votes coming from Place 2 Trustee Dr. Mary Bone and Place 7 Trustee Danielle Weston. Similar to the meeting a week previous on Aug. 16, commenters expressed their feelings about a mask mandate as it relates to public health as well as the safety and well being of students. The mandate instituted early in the morning Aug. 17 included an opt-out provision that allowed parents to opt their children out of their policy, which the board discussed again on Aug. 24.
The recommendation from Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez asked the board to require documentation of a medical or developmental exception to mask wearing for both students and staff, with masks provided on campus. The temporary mandate's expiration date of Sept. 17 would also remain the same. Other aspects of the mandate which were previously approved by the board, such as the removal of masks for athletics and fine arts, remain unchanged. The amended mandate goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 26.
The board voted 5-2 to approve the superintendent's recommendation, with the "no" votes coming from Bone and Weston.
Before voting on whether to uphold the opt-out provision, trustee Weston moved that the board take no action until the Texas Supreme Court comes to a resolution. The motion was seconded by Bone. The motion failed with a vote of 5-2, with Bone and Weston voting to take no action. An amended motion to require that mask wearing be a choice, and to have the amended mask mandate go into effect Sept. 7 also failed with the same vote of 5-2 with Bone and Weston being the "yes" votes.
District parent Sarah Harrelson spoke against the removal of the opt-out policy, saying that her 9-year-old son and her other children who are eighth and ninth grade students had told her that the masks "make it hard to breathe."
"As a school district, we're going along with what is popular, we are going along with what everybody else is doing," Harrelson said. "Every other school district is doing this. That's not what we teach our kids to do; to buck the system, to fight for your rights, to stand up for yourself."
A handful of the over 115 speakers were students. Student Jacob Mitchell said he felt unsafe walking the halls at school with an optional mask policy, citing the rise of COVID-19 cases locally. He asked board members to consider removing the opt-out policy based on local COVID-19 case trends.
"To make that decision without hearing the statistics from a credible source would be an act of extreme irresponsibility," Mitchell said.
Speakers also asked for exceptions to the mask mandate to be based on medical need, which was not required under the mandate that was approved Aug. 17.
As Community Impact Newspaper previously reported, Azaiez sent an email out to district parents Aug. 20, stating that he would ask the board to call another meeting to discuss the opt-out policy included in the district's mandate. In the email, Azaiez stated that the legal landscape of mask mandates is "changing." He cited an Aug. 19 update from the Texas Education Agency that the state is not enforcing the executive order banning mask mandates in public schools from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott due to ongoing legal battles. The Texas Supreme Court also declined to overturn temporary restraining orders in Travis County and the city of Austin mandating masks in public schools, which apply to RRISD, the email states. Instead, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's challenge to the lawsuit was sent to a lower appellate court by the state Supreme Court.
Multiple parents also expressed concern that the district is breaking the law by having a mask mandate at all. District Interim Counsel Jenny Wells said the district is unlikely to be penalized for complying with the TEA's guidance.