‘There’s a lot of emotion here tonight’: Clear Creek ISD community members debate mask mandates

Clear Creek ISD's guidance strongly recommends masks. (Courtesy Pexels)
Clear Creek ISD's guidance strongly recommends masks. (Courtesy Pexels)

Clear Creek ISD's guidance strongly recommends masks. (Courtesy Pexels)

At least 100 community members filled Clear Creek ISD’s League City boardroom and surrounding area Aug. 23 to listen to several dozen parents share their insights on mask mandates and the district's response to COVID-19, among other topics.

Board President Jay Cunningham could not recall another meeting with this kind of turnout in the several years he has been a trustee, he said Aug. 24. Public comment lasted about an hour with applause being heard for speakers both supporting and opposing mask mandates.

While no agenda or action items on mask mandates or COVID-19-related guidance were part of the meeting, district leaders engaged in conversation after public comment about 2021-22 health protocols. Leila Sarmecanic, the district’s general counsel, said at the meeting the legal uncertainty surrounding mask mandates would make them difficult to enforce in CCISD.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a mask mandate Aug. 12 stating all public and nonreligious private schools, along with licensed child care centers, must follow the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the use of masks. Galveston County has issued no similar order; CCISD has schools in both counties.

Change.org petitions have circulated from parents both for and against mask mandates. The petition asking for a mandate had just more than 1,700 signatures as of the evening of Aug. 26; the petition calling for masks to remain optional had just more than 600 at that time.

This time last year, the district delaying a full return to in-person instruction spurred similar community outcry from some parents. Roughly two dozen community members came to board meetings to share their thoughts in August 2020, Cunningham recalled Aug. 24—about half of the amount of people who spoke earlier this week.

Community input

About 40 people spoke at the Aug. 23 public comment, and more than 75% of those speakers shared their concerns about COVID-19, mask mandates, health and safety protocols, or vaccine clinics in schools.

Hidden Lakes resident Glenn Schwem wants for his third- and first-grade children to be able to experience a protocol-free year like in prepandemic times, he told Community Impact Newspaper prior to the meeting. As some Houston-area ISDs defy Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates, he and other parents are concerned about CCISD doing the same.

“I think at some point somebody’s going to say, ‘What the heck are you fighting for?’” he said prior to the meeting, in reference to no mask mandate being on the table for board consideration. “In a nutshell, it’s personal choice.”

Schwem is not interested in parents or district leaders “playing doctor,” he said, but he is against the idea of a mask mandate since the effects and consequences of such a mandate on children are unknown.

“These guys are burdened by it,” he said of young learners. “We’re certainly not against folks wearing masks, but you do you; let me do me.”

Schewm and several more parents spoke Aug. 23 to ask the district to steer clear of a mask mandate.

“I implore you: continue to keep our children free from these mandates and allow parents to choose what is best for our family,” Constance Miller said during public comment. “A choice is all any of us want.”

Other parents, including several who said they worked in the medical field or had advanced degrees in public health, encouraged the board to implement a mask mandate.

“There’s a lot of emotion here tonight. ... I know everyone loves their children,” said James Patterini, a district parent, NASA flight surgeon and internal medicine physician, who also said masking is proven to be safe and effective. “I only ask that when it comes to public health and risk management, you listen to the medical doctors and epidemiologists in your community and you do what is right instead of what is clearly popular.”

Candace Smith, who said she represented more than 2,000 concerned parents and community members, gave the board packets she said contained statistics, letters from doctors addressing the district, anonymous letters from teachers and input from parents.

One student, Hendrix Perkins, spoke against a mask mandate.

Erin O’Connell, a ninth-grader from Clear Brook High School, spoke in favor of a mandate, emphasizing how medically fragile students such as herself are burdened by fear of illness in the classroom.

“Now that we finally get a chance to enjoy the things that we missed out on, we have to worry about the kid next to us coughing who doesn’t have a mask on,” O’Connell said, describing how it feels being back to school in person. “We should only have to worry about being kids. For the sake of students attending your schools, please issue a mask mandate.”

Trustee response

Cunningham told Community Impact Newspaper on Aug. 24 his sense of where district parents and community members stand regarding masks has not changed after the board meeting.

Viewpoints remain mixed, and he wants to remain committed to thinking and communicating in a flexible manner so he can try to understand all of them, he said. This includes his social media posting, he added: He and other board members have solicited feedback via Facebook in recent weeks.

“From both sides, the rhetoric is large,” he said.

He encouraged concerned parents to direct their energy statewide, contact their representatives and advocate for action at the legislative level.

When it comes to mask mandates specifically, the district’s in-house and outside legal counsel both agree defying the governor’s order is not feasible for CCISD, Cunningham said.

“CCISD will not be defying the governor’s order, period,” he said. “It supersedes anything at the local level.”

The board takes in information about district finances, state guidelines and other policies from various CCISD leaders, he said during the meeting. Based on how pandemic-related conflicts were navigated in 2020-21, he believes district leaders have the knowledge, skills and flexibility to be successful headed into the new year.

“I will not tell you that we will not face challenges because we will,” Cunningham said to the community Aug. 23, adding the 2021-22 school year will require adaptation from all, just like 2020-21. "But I am confident that we will get it done and do it together.”

The board meeting can be watched in full on the district’s Vimeo page.

By Colleen Ferguson

Reporter, Bay Area

A native central New Yorker, Colleen worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact Newspaper before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. She covers public education, higher education, business and development news in southeast Houston. Colleen graduated in 2019 from Syracuse University and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, where she worked for the university's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange. Her degrees are in journalism and Spanish language and culture. When not chasing a story, Colleen can be found petting cats and dogs, listening to podcasts, swimming or watching true crime documentaries.



METRONext is the agency’s $3.5 billion bond approved by voters in November 2019, which aims to ease traffic congestion, add expansion to the METRO, and make accessibility and safety upgrades.
(Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
METRO Board approves $1.3 billion budget, discusses METRONext projects

The METRO board of directors met Sept. 21 to give an overview of the drafted budget as well as to receive public comments. It was unanimously approved at the Sept. 23 board meeting.

Qatar Charity along with the University of Houston-Clear Lake Diplomacy Institute will host a food distribution event. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
University of Houston-Clear Lake to host food distribution event Sept. 25

Qatar Charity along with the University of Houston-Clear Lake Diplomacy Institute will host a food distribution event.

The Texas Secretary of State's office has launched an audit of 2020 election results in four of Texas’ largest counties: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Collin. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Texas Secretary of State's office announces audit of 2020 election results in Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Harris counties

In a statement released Sept. 23, the office said it anticipates the state Legislature will fund the process.

Kyle City Council voted 6-1 and approved the new citywide trail master plan that will utilize 2020 bond election funds for trails that will help connect Austin to San Antonio. (Courtesy Pexels)
CI Nation roundup: Perfect Game coming to Cedar Park; Kyle City Council approves trail master plan to connect Austin to San Antonio and more top stories

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Sept. 24.

Big League Dreams will reopen in December with updated turf, seating, nets, fencing, graphics and other upgrades. (Courtesy city of League City)
Big League Dreams to reopen in League City; New Caney ISD officials address student possession of a gun, and more top stories from Greater Houston

Read the most popular business and community news from the past week from the Greater Houston area.

League City and Galveston are both popular destinations for birdwatchers. (Courtesy League City Convention and Visitors Bureau)
Galveston County, Bay Area tourism continue recovery during pandemic

While hospitality and tourism were hit hard by the pandemic and some sectors of the industry are slower to recover, experts said they are optimistic as people rediscover their love of the outdoors and revisit old favorite places.

Comcast will award $1 million to small businesses owned by people of color in Fort Bend and Harris counties (Courtesy Fotolia)
Comcast Rise Investment Fund to award small business grants in Harris, Fort Bend counties

Comcast will award $1 million to small businesses owned by people of color in Fort Bend and Harris counties.

Several parents of New Caney ISD students spoke at the district's Sept. 20 board meetings about recent allegations that a student brought a firearm to Porter High School's Sept. 18 homecoming dance. NCISD Superintendent Matt Calvert stressed that no gunshots were fired at the event, and that the district is investigating the allegations. (Wesley Gardner/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI Nation roundup: Round Rock ISD trustees considered for censuring; New Caney ISD addresses allegations of student with gun at campus event and more top stories

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Sept. 23.

Houston resident Marissa Hanson spoke on keeping tax rates low during the Harris County Commissioners Court public hearing on Sept. 21. (Emily Lincke/Community Impact Newspaper)
Harris County Commissioners propose tax cuts at cost of Harris Health System funding

On average, Harris County homeowners may see lower tax rates in the next year, but it will come at the cost of $17 million in funding for the county’s hospital district, according to Harris County Administrator David Berry.

There are eight statewide propositions Texans will get to decide at the polls Nov. 2. (Liesbeth Powers/Community Impact Newspaper)
8 statewide propositions on Texans' November 2021 ballot and what they mean

Brandon Rottinghaus, the University of Houston’s political science chair, breaks down each Texas proposition before voters head to the polls in November.

 Redistricting is one of the items on the Texas Legislature's third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Senate releases proposed redistricting maps as special session begins

Redistricting is one of the items on the third special session, and the state Senate released proposed maps on Sept. 18.

The H-GAC also helps guide transportation activities through the Transportation Policy Council, according to the council's website (Courtesy Fotolia)
Houston-Galveston Area Council celebrates 55th anniversary

The Houston-Galveston Area Council will be celebrating its 55th anniversary this October.