Richardson ISD plans to allow in-person elementary school students to remove their masks during recess and outdoor physical education classes beginning March 22. However, desk shields the district uses to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus will remain in place for the time being.

District personnel discussed the safety protocols and changes to RISD’s Fall 2020 Return to School Plan during the March 8 board of trustees meeting.

Deputy Superintendent Tabitha Branum said a survey of elementary school staff resulted in a fairly even split on the use of masks for elementary school students, so the decision was made to allow them to be removed during recess and outdoor PE classes after consulting with Director of Health Services Kim Clark and Director of Physical Education Kellie Sellers.

Branum said the district also surveyed teachers throughout the district about continuing to use desk shields.

“Almost 69% of the staff felt like the desk shield and the implementation of the desk shield protocols did feel effective for them as a teacher,” Branum said. “It was something that they wanted to see [the district] continue to use, and 59% of the staff still felt like they were something that were effective for students.”

RISD received around 1,500 responses to the survey about district safety protocols, which was completely voluntary and anonymous, according to staff.

Superintendent Jeannie Stone said she was surprised by the results of the questions about desk shields because she expected those percentages to be higher.

“I can tell you that it's difficult to go against what 59% of our teachers are asking for,” Stone said of why the desk shields will stay in place. “At least, until we have a higher percentage of staff members who are vaccinated.”

The district plans to continue tracking case data and the number of its employees who have been vaccinated, Stone said. The board will revisit the use of desk shields at future meetings.

Trustee Kim Caston said she supports following the recommendation of RISD’s teachers in regard to the district's safety protocols.

“They're the ones on the front line—they are our essential workers,” Caston said. “Let's do everything we can to keep them safe.”

Board President Karen Clardy said the board and district administration can “only do so much” during the pandemic, but it is important to “make sure that everybody’s safe.”

“If we have to go overboard to make that happen, then we have to go overboard,” Clardy said. “I'd rather err on the side of safety and health then to not [err], especially concerning our teachers."