To mask or not to mask: Local districts differ on 2021-22 COVID-19 policies

Helen Shih, a scientist and Pearland ISD parent, spoke in favor of a district mask mandate during a rally outside of Pearland ISD's board of trustees meeting on Aug. 16. (Andy Yanez/Community Impact Newspaper)
Helen Shih, a scientist and Pearland ISD parent, spoke in favor of a district mask mandate during a rally outside of Pearland ISD's board of trustees meeting on Aug. 16. (Andy Yanez/Community Impact Newspaper)

Helen Shih, a scientist and Pearland ISD parent, spoke in favor of a district mask mandate during a rally outside of Pearland ISD's board of trustees meeting on Aug. 16. (Andy Yanez/Community Impact Newspaper)

Pearland, Friendswood and Alvin ISDs are taking varying approaches to public health and safety protocols for the 2021-22 school year amid the ongoing pandemic.

None of the three districts have imposed a mask mandate for 2021-22, although other Houston-area school districts have chosen to do so in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s order prohibiting mandates. Harris County Public Health issued a mask mandate Aug. 12 for the county’s schools and facilities.

PISD highly recommends masks for all students, staff and visitors while indoors. While PISD is not enforcing mask-wearing, all district nurses have access to rapid COVID-19 tests for students if a parent gives consent, said Larry Berger, the district’s assistant superintendent of support service.

PISD Superintendent John Kelly said the district is also limiting visitors and using a COVID-19 dashboard to track cases. The district recommends people maintain 3 feet of distancing from each other.

As the PISD board met in closed session Aug. 16, PISD and AISD community members demonstrated in favor of mask mandates outside of PISD’s administration building at 1928 N. Main St., Pearland.The group aims for PISD and AISD to implement universal mask mandates from kindergarten to 12th grade and for the mandates to remain until the recent COVID-19 surge gets under control. The group’s other goal is for PISD to fund remote learning.“I don’t want to be scared when I leave the house and go to school,” Pearland Junior High West student Amanda Barsan said.

PISD board member Toni Carter said Aug. 16 she had received 78 parent emails regarding masks, 10 of which were from those opposed to a mandate and 68 of which were in favor of a mandate.

Other districts

Meanwhile, FISD’s facilities will not be modified to allow for social distancing. In regard to face coverings, families and employees are encouraged “to make the best decision for themselves, and we expect all staff, students and visitors to respect the choice of others,” health mitigation protocols state.

Several parents, including those with immunocompromised students as well as a pediatrician, voiced concerns about the use of face coverings during the public comment portion of the board’s Aug. 9 regular meeting. No one who spoke at that meeting was opposed to mask-wearing.

FISD board members David Montz and Tony Hopkins said Aug. 9 they expect the protocols to be revisited frequently based on pandemic trends. “I think we’re going to see some fluidity [because] this has ramped up,” Montz said of the virus and its recent spread. “We need to just do what our constituents want us to do.”

AISD students and staff will maintain social distancing whenever possible, and masking indoors is strongly recommended. District language around masking has gone from “optional” to “highly encouraged” to “strongly recommended” between mid-July and mid-August, AISD Director of Communications Renae Rivas said.

The district has heard from stakeholders both for and against requiring a mask, but no formal survey was conducted, Rivas said.

“In Alvin ISD, we are obligated to follow the law,” she said via email. “Therefore, we will strongly recommend masks.”
By Andy Yanez

Reporter, Pearland/Friendswood

Andy joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in June 2021 after graduating with a degree in journalism from the University of Houston. He started off as the South Houston Metro Reporter where he helped each different edition in the South Houston market before transitioning to the Pearland/Friendswood market in August 2021. Andy covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Andy served as the sports editor of The Cougar, UH's student newspaper, where he covered the university's athletics beat for two years and got to cover the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four in Indianapolis.

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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