The Plano ISD board of trustees passed a temporary mask mandate that allows for medical, religious, philosophical and administrative exemptions in a 6-1 vote at an Aug. 23 emergency meeting.
The mandate takes effect Aug. 26 and lasts until Sept. 24. It covers all indoor district facilities as well as district-provided transportation. District officials said more information on the mandate will be available online soon. Angela Powell was the only trustee to vote against the proposal.
District officials confirmed there will be no review or approval process for exemptions.
Members of the public gathered in and outside of the meeting room at the district’s administration building, many displaying signs of protest or support.
The board adjourned into two closed sessions to discuss the issue during the nearly seven-hour meeting that included close to 90 public speakers.
“The fears people have ... they are real,” trustee Jeri Chambers said. “To mitigate that in the short term, I think, would be in the best interest of all our students.”
Amber Pierce, a Richardson ISD counselor who has children in Plano ISD, said, “If parents don’t like that [mask] rule, there’s a parent-led virtual option. That’s your option.”
The board presented an update on the number of student and staff COVID-19 cases before voting on the mandate. PISD’s COVID-19 dashboard showed as of Aug. 20 there were 185 confirmed cases among students and 50 among staff. Nearly 2,400 PISD students in pre-K through sixth grade registered for a temporary, parent-led virtual option offered by the district, according to staff.
“No mask mandates; please let the parents decide,” said Dawn Smith, parent of a PISD student. “[Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] provides guidelines, not laws. Just let the parents decide.”
The vote comes after the Texas Supreme Court on Aug. 19 left in place a temporary restraining order issued by Jan Soifer, Travis County District Court judge, which blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.The court denied Abbott’s motion for emergency relief from the temporary restraining order, filed Aug. 13, against executive order GA-38, which barred local governments from issuing mask mandates.
The Texas Education Agency updated its public health guidance Aug. 19 to state it will not enforce the governor's order "as the result of ongoing litigation."
Advocacy group Disability Rights Texas on Aug. 17 filed the first federal lawsuit against Abbott and TEA Commissioner Mike Morath on behalf of 14 child plaintiffs with disabilities.
The suit claims Abbott's July 29 executive order prohibiting public entities from setting mask mandates is discriminatory. According to the suit, the ban on required masking puts children with disabilities at a significant risk and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
After initially approving revised health and safety protocols for the 2021-22 school year Aug. 3, the PISD board approved updated protocols based on TEA guidance during a special called meeting Aug. 9.
Those changes included a ban on elementary and middle school campuses planning large events, such as assemblies and pep rallies, during the school day for the first nine weeks of school.
William C. Wadsack contributed to this story.