Round Rock ISD tables mask matrix discussion for Sept. 18 meeting

The Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees met Sept. 14 to discuss several items of interest, including a mask matrix. (Courtesy Round Rock ISD)
The Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees met Sept. 14 to discuss several items of interest, including a mask matrix. (Courtesy Round Rock ISD)

The Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees met Sept. 14 to discuss several items of interest, including a mask matrix. (Courtesy Round Rock ISD)

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to name the RRISD board's attorney as Doug Poneck of the law firm Escamilla and Poneck, not Jacob Woolston.

At least 60 community members signed up to speak regarding the district's mask mandate and proposed matrix at the Sept. 14 meeting of the Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees, with the district's temporary mask mandate set to expire just three days later.

Ultimately, very few of these people spoke at the meeting as it was cut short by the board, with items tabled for a meeting scheduled later in the week. Two board trustees also left the meeting early, after a brief recess in the meeting.

Currently, the district has in place a mask mandate which requires masks to be worn indoors on its campuses, with exemptions allowed on a case-by-case basis. With this mandate set to expire Sept. 17, the board was set to consider a mask matrix option, to allow for on-campus mask requirements to be tied to stages and colors based off the systems implemented by Williamson and Travis Counties. However, the board tabled some agenda items, including the mask matrix, to be discussed at the previously called Sept. 18 meeting.

Several students, some as young as second grade, spoke in favor of maintaining a mask mandate, and some said they were speaking on behalf of teachers. Round Rock High School sophomore Amy Hazelhorst said she was one such student.

"Round Rock ISD prides itself as a district of innovation, and we want to trust that our schools will use that creative ability to commit to the best and safest options for our community," Hazelhorst said. "However, our first month returning to the classroom does not reflect that. There needs to be a stronger stance and enforcement of the mask mandate, not only for the obvious reason of combating the transmission rate, but to ultimately prevent our schools from shutting down and being forced online."

One student shared that the mask mandate had heightened her feelings of anxiety, and that she felt the district was "making her break the law" with its mandate.

As student speakers each in turn shared with the board what they had come to say, they were interrupted by shouting coming from the hallway outside of the meeting room, where overflow seating was made available for the meeting. At the meeting's start, Board President Amy Weir addressed attendees who had chosen to bring their own chairs or sit on the floor.

"Before we start, the rule of the meeting tonight, based on the the administration's rules, is the number of seats in here are the number of seats," Weir said. "You are not allowed to bring in seats, are not allowed to sit on the floor. I'm going to give you one warning, and then we will have to escort you out."

Capacity has been limited for seating inside of the lecture hall, with the meeting streamed to the cafeteria to allow for social distancing. The meeting was interrupted multiple times by attendees accusing the board of not allowing the public to attend the meeting, with some removed by district police at the request of the board for these disruptions.

"We had the same setup for months now," said Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez. "This is not the first meeting we have had and we're more than happy to reconsider for the next board meeting."

When Place 2 and 7 Trustees Mary Bone and Danielle Weston appealed to Weir for a vote on the seating arrangement, it was stated by Weir and the district's attorney that it was not something they had to vote on.

"Again, this is not a parliamentary procedure issue," said board attorney Doug Poneck of the law firm Escamilla and Poneck. "It's basically enforcing the administrative rule that's in place. So if you wish to ask your law enforcement to enforce the rule for the meeting, you are allowed to do so and you don't have to vote."

A vote was taken, with the board voting 5-2 to keep the current seating arrangement, with "no" votes coming from Bone and Weston. When the board returned from a short recess, Trustees Bone and Weston had departed. Public affairs and communication manager Jenny LaCoste-Caputo told Community Impact Newspaper that the trustees had left of their own volition, and were not removed.

The board meeting was originally scheduled for Sept. 16, but had been rescheduled to Sept. 14 to avoid conflict with Yom Kippur.

"I am thrilled that we were able to change the date of this meeting to accommodate our Jewish community and not meet on their high holy day," said Place 3 Trustee Amber Feller. "I am sorry that we weren't able to conduct all of our business."
By Brooke Sjoberg
Brooke Sjoberg is the Round Rock reporter for the Round Rock and Pflugerville/Hutto editions of Community Impact Newspaper. She worked for The Gonzales Inquirer, The Daily Texan and The Daily Dot among other publications before coming to Community Impact. Brooke is from Seguin, TX and graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in 2020. Her last name is pronounced Show-burg.


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