During the Aug. 16 meeting of the RRISD board of trustees, 180 people signed up to speak about the possibility of a mask mandate and COVID-19 leave policy for district employees, with the majority focused on the mask mandate.
Trustees ultimately voted to approve an additional 10 paid leave days when a district employee tests positive for COVID-19 and self-reports to the district as well as a temporary mask mandate requiring masks to be worn on campus from Aug. 17-Sept. 17.
The board's next regular meeting is Sept. 16, and officials said that will serve as an opportunity to extend the mask mandate if necessary.
The board voted on mask mandates for elementary school and high school students, with both votes passing 5-2. The "no" votes came from Place 2 trustee Mary Bone and Place 7 trustee Danielle Weston.
"These motions that you all are making, I think are dangerous for our district," Bone said. "I think they could be costly in the future."
The district also provides an option for parents to opt out of the mandate, which requires masks be worn indoors on campus and on buses when 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained. A form will be shared with district parents by end of day Aug. 17, giving them the option to opt out of this requirement if they so choose, according to the district.
Students, staff and faculty will be able to remove their masks while seated in their campus cafeteria or staff lunchrooms and while outdoors.
Masks will not be required while students and staff are participating in athletics or fine arts. They may be required in physical education classes if deemed appropriate by a coach, director or instructor.
Public comments centered largely on whether the district should or should not implement a mask mandate, with students, parents, and retired and current teachers citing concerns of personal and public safety, personal freedoms and how leave policies might impact the way teachers self-report when they test positive for COVID-19.
The meeting, comments and vote came two days before the start of the fall 2021 semester.
While not every person who signed up gave public comment, more than 120 people shared their views of the two agenda items. A majority expressed support for a mask mandate and COVID-19 leave policy for employees who test positive.
In a presentation from the district, 69% of parents surveyed said they were planning on having their children wear masks to school. The same presentation also showed the district is spending $17.5 million to provide virtual learning this fall.
Multiple districts across the state, including neighboring Pflugerville and Austin ISDs, have issued their own mask mandates in response to surging cases of COVID-19 driven by the more infectious delta variant.
Round Rock ISD is split between Travis and Williamson counties. Travis County filed a temporary restraining order Aug. 13 against Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning mask mandates in the state, which was granted by a Travis County district judge.
Travis County now requires students in public schools to wear masks, and board members discussed at length whether the district's one-third split into Travis County required compliance with the mask mandate.
RRISD interim General Counsel Jenny Wells said at the meeting that attorneys for the Texas Association of School Boards have argued school districts have the legal authority to choose whether to require masks, although Abbott disagrees and will challenge districts that choose to implement mask mandates.
"There's legal authority to do either one," Wells said. "There's also a number of entities [that have] filed what's called amicus briefs, basically a friend of the court [in] the Supreme Court. TASB attorneys for school districts across Texas [are] all arguing that the governor actually does not have the authority to supersede school districts, and that the local school district has local controlling authority over its ISD in a situation such as this, so there's strong legal authority to suggest that the school district does have this ability."
Community Impact Newspaper will update this story as developments unfold.