Friendswood ISD leaders discuss revising COVID-19 protocols to encourage masking indoors

Current Friendswood ISD protocols encourage community members to make their own choice regarding masking. (Courtesy Pexels)
Current Friendswood ISD protocols encourage community members to make their own choice regarding masking. (Courtesy Pexels)

Current Friendswood ISD protocols encourage community members to make their own choice regarding masking. (Courtesy Pexels)

Friendswood ISD leaders discussed potential changes to the district’s COVID-19 protocols, including a move to language recommending face coverings indoors, at a Sept. 15 board of trustees meeting.

No changes in protocols were voted on at the meeting. Language in the current protocols states they will be reviewed every six weeks, as previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper.

As the board and Superintendent Thad Roher discussed updates to protocols, he spoke of the weight district administrators carry when it comes to making decisions about student safety and student needs for safety.

“We want instruction to move forward,” he said. “We’re learning that this is going to be a four-quarter game versus a one-quarter game ... but we do not want to sacrifice the instruction to our students.”

Prior to the discussion, several parents of immunocompromised students shared concerns during public comment about their children falling ill—or missing out on classes due to their increased risk of doing so.

While moving to all virtual instruction would ensure no COVID-19 spread in FISD, that is not the option that provides optimal learning for every student, Roher said.

“We've decided to go in person because of what we've experienced in those two previous years,” Roher said, adding in-person instruction aligns with the district’s beliefs of what education is and should be. “That’s a hard decision. That’s a weighted decision.”

Trustees and Roher reviewed some of the potential revisions to protocols. None were voted on Sept. 15, as district officials plan to consult local health authorities before proceeding with changes. District officials are also meeting with elementary school leaders Sept. 16, Roher said, and plan to touch base with high school administrators sometime soon.

Based on how the 2021-22 school year has gone so far, FISD is considering the following:

  • Enhanced mitigation protocols for situations in elementary classrooms, including a change in the threshold for classroom closures;

  • Further enforcing efforts to keep classes from mixing during physical education, recess, lunch and special area subjects like art;

  • Updating language around face coverings to encourage masking in indoor spaces and buses

  • Updating criteria by which large before- and after-school events are evaluated, to determine whether student breakfasts, pep rallies or other special events can safely be held indoors; and

  • Allowing students who have been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive case to take a test on day five and return on day eight, versus being out of school for a full 10 days.

Current Friendswood ISD protocols encourage community members to make their own choice regarding masking. District leaders indicated they will not move toward language instituting a mask mandate.

Galveston ISD is facing a lawsuit from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton over their mask mandate, Roher said, and trustees agreed the district does not need to meet the same fate.

“I do not want to spend our money on lawsuits right now,” said board President Tony Hopkins, although he added a mask mandate would likely assist with COVID-19 mitigation this year. “I think our cases would have been a lot better at [Windsong Intermediate School] if we had last year’s protocols in place.”

There are currently 48 active cases across the district, 37 of which are among students. Of those 48 cases, 17 are at Friendswood High School. Click here to view the district’s COVID-19 dashboard for more case information.

Windsong and Bales Intermediate School have both had significantly more coronavirus spread this year than last, FISD’s Director of Safety JT Patton said during the meeting.

One classroom closed at Bales on Sept. 3, and students returned Sept. 7, per district communications. Windsong has had two classrooms closed due to COVID-19 spread this year. Classrooms were closed on Sept. 8 and Sept. 9, and students returned on Sept. 15 due to Hurricane Nicholas-related closures, FISD Communications Director Dayna Owen said via email.

Protocol dictates all children in a closure-affected classroom will remain at home, monitoring symptoms, for a total of four days to assess if there are other outbreaks that may arise in the classrooms, Patton said via email.

Hopkins encouraged students and staff to remain home if sick, suggesting recent upticks in cases may have to do with people returning to school too quickly after an illness. The district is averaging around 93% attendance, FISD officials said at the meeting.

“We want kids to feel they’re safe,” trustee Rebecca Hillenberg said during the meeting. “We’re looking for every opportunity to make it as safe as possible for our children to go to school.”
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.


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