Students and staff at Fort Bend ISD will be required to wear masks when moving about indoors in crowded spaces and when unable to socially distance from others during the 2021-2022 school year, district officials announced May 10.

During the FBISD board of trustees meeting May 10, Gwyn Touchet, FBISD’s chief human resources officer, and Chief of Academic Affairs Beth Martinez laid out the upcoming changes to the district's health and safety protocols in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Several changes to protocols will go into effect June 7. These include discontinuing the current process of wellness and recess monitors and changing the social distancing requirements from 6 feet to 3 feet. The district will continue partnerships to offer accessible testing and vaccines and keep hand-sanitizing stations around campuses, the district officials said.

Further, during the 2021-22 school year, the district plans to require individuals to wear masks when moving about indoors in large crowds and when unable to separate from others by at least three feet.

What that might look like, Touchet said, is students wearing masks during passing periods, when entering and exiting the school buildings, during assemblies and when they are in crowded group settings.

Students and staff members will not be required to wear masks when eating lunch, at outdoor sporting events or when they are able to socially distance at least 3 feet, she said.

The district made the decision to keep requiring masks based on data and best practices and from guidance from Dr. Joe Anzaldua, the city of Sugar Land’s local health authority, Touchet said.

“He shared with us that if we are waiting on the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to make mask-wearing optional, it is likely not to happen, that this will need to be a decision made based on factors relevant to FBISD,” she said.

The district is recommending the changes to the mask policy begin at the start of the next school rather than June 7 to allow officials to monitor any changes regarding active COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates over the summer and make adjustments as needed.

Based on the vaccination rate among employees thus far, the district is predicting 80% of employees to be vaccinated by the start of the next school year, Touchet said. Additionally, since children ages 12-15 can now also receive Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, district officials expect a portion of the FBISD's student population to be vaccinated come fall.

The announcement was met with varied feedback from the board. Trustee Dave Rosenthal said he hoped the district would reconsider and make masks optional for the coming school year like some other districts in the region have done.

“One of the reasons that you haven't seen me in that boardroom in person is because I cannot sit for four to five hours wearing a mask,” he said. “I physically cannot do it; it makes me ill. I can't imagine a child having to do that for eight hours.”

Board member Denetta Williams said she, too, believed mask-wearing should optional.

“I agree that this is a difficult decision, but I would hope that we allow for the parents to have a say as to whether or not their kid is in a mask,” she said.

Board member Shirley Rose-Gilliam said she was struggling to agree with one side or the other but wanted to put safety and security first.

“It hurts to hear that the decision that we make, either way, will not be a popular one,” she said.

Board President Addie Heyliger said at the end of the day, the district is doing its best to ensure kids and staff remain healthy and asked that the district communicate all changes clearly to the public. Moving forward, Martinez said staff will continue monitoring the data and make adjustments to the plan as needed.

“We will continuously and vigilantly monitor the data. ... We stay poised to pivot and, should we need to, make hard decisions, like we have been,” she said.