Following recommendations from the district’s COVID-19 task force, the board decided masks will no longer be mandatory for students and staff on campus as long as cases continue to trend downward. Prekindergarten through fourth-grade students are allowed to remove their masks while seated in classrooms and during physical education classes. Close contact tracing will no longer be required if students are at least 3 feet apart and wearing masks at the time of exposure.
However, close contact tracing and quarantining in certain circumstances will remain per guidelines from Tarrant County Public Health.
Superintendent Lane Ledbetter said he has received calls and emails asking for masks to remain and to go. He said although COVID-19 cases are trending downward, there are still some teachers and families who need masks to remain.
“We are certainly moving towards the fall being normal,” Ledbetter told the hundreds of parents who attended the board meeting.
The task force has been in communication with Tarrant County Public Health regarding the latest community trends for case counts and vaccines.
“As the COVID-19 numbers continued to trend downward and vaccines continued to be administered, Tarrant County Public Health believes that in the fall, we can treat COVID-19 similar to influenza or any other vaccine-preventable disease,” Carroll Senior High nurse Karen Flexer said.
Several trustees suggested making the change earlier to allow students to enjoy a few maskless days before the end of the school year. However, the task force did not recommend that move, citing upcoming testing in person for STAAR, Advanced Placement and end-of-course exams.
“From a staff perspective, our staff doesn't have the option to go to [virtual instruction] in that short amount of time,” said Lauren Wurman, executive director of personnel services at Carroll ISD. “With STAAR testing coming up, it's required by the state that we have certified teachers administering that STAAR test.”
Wurman said the district already has a shortage of bus drivers, and lifting the mask mandate could worsen that shortage.
“Our bus drivers are our most vulnerable population because of age. And if we removed the mask mandate prior to the end of the school year, we could have bus drivers that could not finish off the year, which would mean we would not be able to transport our students for the rest of this year,” she said.
During the April 5 meeting, the task force presented results of a districtwide survey among parents of K-12 students regarding the mask mandate in Carroll ISD for students. Out of 4,994 responses, over 55% responded they do not want a change in the current mask rules for students. Another 34.5% said they wanted to see a change in the mask mandate, and 9.9% said they wanted to see partial change, such as removing masks while outdoors for students. The remaining said they are undecided.
That same survey sought opinions on the mask mandate for staff. Out of 4,994 responses, 59.4% of parents said they did not want to see a change in mask rules for staff. Only 31.7% said they want to see a change in the mask mandate for staff. About 8.2% favored a partial change. The remaining said they are undecided.
Carroll ISD parent Kelly McGuire, who has a 15-year-old student in the district, was among those at the meeting asking for the mask mandate to be lifted.
“It never should have gone on this long,” she said.
McGuire said teachers and staff, many of whom have voiced that they want the mask mandate to remain, were given opportunities by the district to be vaccinated.
“Everyone who wants to be vaccinated from a teacher or staff perspective has had that option, so that should not be a deterrent,” McGuire said.
Board members acknowledged the complexity of the situation, stating that there are many people to keep in mind when making these decisions.
“I'm encouraged by that fact [that the mask mandate ends June 1]. That's, in my opinion, progress, I know a lot of our families have wanted some surety about the fall [semester]. I also understand the desire to have some relief before the end of the year,” trustee Danny Gilpin said.
Trustee Eric Lannen said this was a no-win situation. He said he trusts the task force to have made the most informed recommendations with the available information.
“If the team, the [COVID-19] team that you guys have put together is making recommendations and you can't see any way to make any exceptions whether we have data or not, then I feel like I have to support you guys in accepting and implementing the recommendations,” he said.