The Richardson ISD board of trustees voted unanimously Sept. 3 to support the superintendent’s COVID-19 mitigation plan, which includes an ongoing mask mandate and guidelines for the potential closure of schools.

“The board felt it was necessary we give [Superintendent Jeannie] Stone our absolute confidence and support,” Board President Karen Clardy said.

Trustees will continue to monitor the pandemic and will revisit district guidelines no later than Oct. 4, Clardy said.

The 10-day closure of the district’s Brentfield Elementary School in Dallas triggered the meeting.

The campus closed Sept. 3 and will reopen Sept. 13 due to an elevated number of positive cases and quarantines. As of Sept. 2, there were 29 active cases among students and staff at Brentfield, according to the district’s dashboard.

Curriculum will be delivered virtually during the closure, according to the district. Once in-person classes resume, any students still in quarantine will be given a schedule that combines their usual classes with self-led assignments.

RISD health officials said the district begins closely monitoring a campus when 15% or more of students and staff are absent due to illness. A letter is also sent to parents informing them of the increase and requesting compliance with district health guidelines.

Bowie Elementary and Northwood Hills Elementary schools have both surpassed the 15% absence threshold, district officials said.

If cases continue to increase, the district said it will consult with Dallas County health advisers before taking official action.

RISD Director of Health Services Ashley Jones said the decision to close Brentfield was due to rapid spread of the virus.

”We are trying to identify who is positive by contract tracing—identifying the right students the right way, so that we can send those kids home,” she said.

Jones said over 25% of Brentfield’s students and staff were absent due to COVID-19 before the school was shut down. A sixth grade RISD student from another campus is currently in the intensive care unit, Jones said.

Jones said she has heard feedback from some district schools that parents are not testing children when they exhibit symptoms.

“They don't want to let us know that they are positive. We are also getting feedback that they are sending their kids [to school] symptomatic,” she said.

As of Sept. 2, there were 315 students and 32 employees with active COVID-19 cases, according to the district’s dashboard.

Common COVID-19 symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, difficulty breathing, upset stomach, congestion and loss of taste or smell, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Students who test positive for COVID-19 are expected to stay home and report the illness to their campus nurse, according to RISD’s health guidelines.

During the meeting, board members stressed the importance of maintaining “local control” and keeping students safe while they attend classes in-person.

Despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide ban on mask mandates, Stone said in an Aug. 16 video statement that the district will require face coverings for all students, staff and visitors.

Stone said RISD is legally allowed to require masks due to a separate ruling from a Travis County court that allows each Texas school district to make its own decision based on local conditions. Legal battles over the governor's ban on mask mandates are continuing throughout the state.

A number of RISD parents spoke during the meeting. Some voiced support of the district’s decision to close Brentwood, while others said school shutdowns and health mandates are harmful to students.

“I can no longer just stand here and not say anything,” parent Carley Butts said during the meeting. “This has gone too far. There is no reason to send healthy children home. There is such a minimal risk.”

Parent Taylor Blair said parents who refuse to follow safety precautions are contributing to increased case numbers.

“Your jobs are unimaginably hard right now, and so are ours, as parents,” Blair said. ”The mitigation procedures in place ... are the only reason numbers aren’t higher. That’s how the science works. I hope that we as parents can support [that].

For more information on RISD’s COVID-19 protocols, click here.