The district previously acknowledged it would be making no changes to its mask requirements after Gov. Greg Abbott's rollback of statewide face-covering mandate became effective March 10, a path nearby districts have both followed and deviated from. Null spent much of his March 9 address discussing the district's decision-making process for maintaining its policy through the spring semester.
"I know the impact that it would have if we have to close school again, not to mention the academic danger that it causes. We know those dangers as well, and they are significant," Null said. "When you take all that into account, and you take all the reasons why this decision could put this school year in jeopardy, and you take all of the information that we’ve been given from experts, for us to sit here and say that we want to ignore all of that and we’re going to gamble the school year, that’s just not a gamble I’m willing to make."
Following Abbott's March 2 announcement that some COVID-19 pandemic restrictions would be lifted this week, Null said he spent time reviewing the latest guidance on masking and gathering input from government and education officials, health experts, district staff and community representatives before arriving at the decision to make no changes during the ongoing school year. While he acknowledged the many community members on all sides of the masking debate had provided input on the move, Null said the decision mainly boiled down to the district's proven track record in remaining open at all levels though the entirety of the 2020-21 school year so far with a mask requirement in place. He also noted the disruption a change in policy could cause for students and district employees who chose to work in person given the district's present framework.
Null also said the district's use of masks has helped limit required quarantining, and that a shift in policy could trigger a surge in absences, endangering continued in-person operations. Students and staff are forced to quarantine at home for at least 10 days if they are identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19; the close-contact designation does not apply if both parties are masked, but if unmasked interactions are traced following a COVID-19 case, Null said quarantine numbers could quickly rise.
"We can argue scientifically [about masking]. ... I can only tell you that what I know to be a fact is if we remove our mask guidance, we will exponentially increase the number of students that are in quarantine," he said. "And every single student that gets sent to quarantine is a child that wanted to be a face-to-face learner that has now lost their opportunity to do that at what I would argue may be the most important instructional time of the year here as we wrap up the school year.”
Although face-covering requirements remain in place in schools, Null said the district will begin relaxing masking rules for outdoor activities such as recess and sporting events through the remainder of the spring semester. He said limited numbers of parent volunteers will be allowed to return to work in school buildings this year as well, and some previously limited in-person learning opportunities such as small-group instruction can begin again.
Null also highlighted the district's plans for in-person high school graduation ceremonies planned for late May in addition to the policy discussion March 9. Most ceremonies will take place at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands with at least four tickets available for each participating student, he said. While dates have been set for all ceremonies, Null said venues for Washington and Caney Creek high school have yet to be confirmed and will be announced at a later date.
The full high school graduation schedule is:
- May 20: Oak Ridge High School, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
- May 21: Conroe High School, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
- May 22: Washington High School, TBD
- May 22: Caney Creek High School, TBD
- May 24: The Woodlands College Park High School, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
- May 25: The Woodlands High School, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
- May 26: Grand Oaks High School, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion