After an hour and a half of public testimony and more than an hour of board discussion, trustees voted 5-2 on April 15 to uphold the existing mask policy.
“Our community should not be making decisions for other people,” Trustee Tiffanie Harrison said. “None of this is productive toward what we need to be accomplishing. The staff has asked can we maintain to get through the next six weeks.
Trustees Danielle Weston and Mary Bone voted against maintaining the status quo.
“If we want to start a mask battle we can start that tonight,” Bone said prior to the vote. “Otherwise we can be reasonable and listen to our community and that when their children are 6 feet apart in a school building they can take their mask off. Have you seen Austin ISD? They’re going down the drain. Do we want to be like that?”
The district's current mask policy states masks are required of all students and employees on buses, inside buildings and school grounds, including outdoors. It states students "may choose to remove or keep their masks on during outdoor activities such as P.E. class and recess. Students who remove their mask should still appropriately social distance from others."
Weston, with support from Bone, led an effort to change the district’s masking policy on two key points: lift the requirement for mask for students under the age of 10 and lift the requirement for wearing masks outdoors and during physical education indoors.
She said not adopting these changes could lead toward “some sort of police state” where employees start reporting each other for not wearing masks.
“We need to at a minimum respect the [Texas Education Agency] public health guidelines, and any changes should be to loosen them, not make them more restrictive,” Weston said.
About 50 parents, community members and students signed up to speak about the mask policy, split on whether to relax or maintain the policy. Trustee Jun Xiao added that the board received more than 350 emails, many of which he said were in support of maintaining the existing policy.
Those who spoke in favor of masks being optional pointed to studies that indicate masks are not as effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 as well as the negative impact wearing masks has had on their children and their mental health.
Parent Dustin Clark raised the issue of no concrete evidence that wearing a mask helps and wondered what would happen next fall.
“Are you going to implement masks every time you see a rise in cases? Where’s your goal post?” he asked the board.
Parent Amy O’Grady pointed to the TEA guidelines that state masking is not required for students under the age of 10. She also hears about RRISD students taking “mask breaks” and taking them off for lunch.
“Why do you consider kids safe during these mask breaks but not the rest of the day?” she said.
Those who support to maintain the policy to require masks say masks have been proven effective to keep people safe, especially the high-risk population.
RRISD student Jacob Lozano said he has been learning virtually because he has not felt comfortable returning to campus. His grandparents live with his family and he said he does not want to put them at risk.
“Please for the safety of everyone keep the mask requirement,” he said.
Parent Chuck Sanders said personal protective equipment and masks protect his family.
“Teachers have to go to school to teach, and forcing them to be around a population where there is not a vaccine for is reckless at best,” he said.
Online, more than 40 comments residents commented in support of Weston on a Facebook post of an article previewing the meeting. In a post on the RRISD’s message board for board members, Weston wrote that her recommendations address safety concerns as temperatures rise. She added that board members heard from parents, teachers and school nurses and received conflicting information on the effectiveness of masks.
“There is no consensus among our school nurses, teachers or area healthcare professionals on whether masks should be required in RRISD any longer,” she wrote.