Magnolia ISD trustees voted unanimously March 8 to adopt a resolution lifting the district’s mask order April 1.
“We have followed the governor’s orders throughout this school year ... and we are now in a position where the governor’s making a mask a personal choice. The Texas Education Agency responded to that by requiring schools to continue with masks, but they gave school boards the local authority to make that optional,” Board President Gary Blizzard said during the March 8 meeting.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced March 2 that Texans will no longer be required by state law to wear a mask, and all businesses will be allowed to operate at full capacity as of March 10. In response, the TEA released updated public health guidance March 3, stating that TEA officials are leaving mask policies up to individual school boards, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.
“You know who your constituents are in this county—represent, lead. Don’t wait until April 1. Let’s be done with this. Let’s let our kids breathe,” MISD parent Kirk Osborn said.
Trustee Travis Moffatt noted before voting to adopt the resolution that while he is not “a mask fan” and supports lifting the district’s order, he is concerned about the issues that will arise in the weeks until the order takes effect April 1, as the state order is effective March 10.
“We’re going to lovingly ask [students] to respect their teachers so they have time to get a vaccine so they don’t have to worry about personal issues in their life related to that,” Superintendent Todd Stephens said. “I think we’re going to be one of the very, very few districts in the state of Texas that’s taking this step, but I believe we’re in a place to do that. But I think we have to make sure we take care of our teachers, and it’d be prudent for us to wait until April 1 before we move forward.”
The resolution states the April 1 timeline will allow teachers who choose to get a COVID-19 vaccine to do so before the mask requirement is lifted for students and staff in the district. Until that date, students and staff will continue to be required to wear a face covering.
The Texas Department of State Health Services announced March 3 that Texas educators and child care workers are now eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines.
“Last week was the first week that teachers in Texas could receive the vaccine,” Stephens said. “As administration, I would respectfully ask that we stay with that April 1 time for that to make sure we’re sending a message to our teachers, because without them, none of this [schooling] happens.”
With many parents in attendance Monday night, nine spoke publicly in support of the district lifting its mask order immediately.
“This is putting our children’s psychological well-being, health and education at risk. ... My daughter cried when I told her of the [state] mandate being lifted. It was such an exciting moment for her,” said Ashlee Gonzalez-Rios, a Magnolia resident for 14 years and mother of a MISD second grader. “Masks, just as vaccinations, should remain a personal choice, and I would hope you would agree that institutions such as the government, TEA and, respectfully, this school board should not be allowed to make medical decisions for our children in the district.”
To better understand teachers’ perspectives, Blizzard said the district surveyed its teachers to gauge how they feel about the current requirement that students and staff wear masks.
Blizzard said 52% of teachers surveyed said they would prefer no masks while 45% of teachers said they would like to keep the mask order in place and 3% of teachers had no opinion. However, Blizzard said the number of those supporting lifting the mask order rose to 70% of teachers if they were first given the opportunity to be vaccinated.
“Besides the masks, I think in Magnolia ISD, we’re as close to normal operating as we can be. It’s one of the things we promised our parents in the beginning of the year,” Stephens said. “We didn’t have that ability [to go against the state mask mandate], but now we do.”
District officials confirmed MISD’s COVID-19 testing site will continue to operate, offering COVID-19 tests to students and staff.
“We still encourage masks for those who choose to do so,” Blizzard said. “It’s a choice, it’s not a mandate.”