Aledo ISD has not taken action to remove its mask requirement despite another push to do so by parents and residents.
Several people have attended past board meetings to voice their concerns over keeping the mask policy, including again Monday night. However, there have been others during previous meetings that say they are in favor of keeping masks on.
“The feedback is mixed although the majority of the feedback is to continue the mask policy,” AISD Board Secretary Forrest Collins said at Monday’s regular meeting. “I’ve also made it clear that we have to stand up for our employees — we’re not a business but we’re the largest employer in Parker County. It’s important for me to make sure that those employees who love our children every day have the opportunity to get vaccinated and once they do, I’ll be more than happy to look at changing anything else.”
Last week AISD vaccinated around 230 employees and provided additional opportunities for more. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott changed the vaccine eligibility to include teachers and child care workers on March 3 after his announcement ending the statewide mask mandate.
“Not until the day after the state mandate was lifted were educators put into a category to be able to access the vaccine, so we had a lot of employees — most of them — who were not eligible to get vaccines,” AISD Superintendent Susan Bohn said.
State health officials Tuesday said that all Texas adults will be eligible for the vaccine — regardless of age, occupation or health status — beginning March 29.
“[My daughter] has severe acne because she has to wear a moist mask for 12 hours during Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I worry about her and pray about her every single day because she’s upset about her face,” AISD parent Debbie Furlough said. “We got to a dermatologist and there’s not much we can do until we de-mask.”
Parent Holly Mann said kids are visual learners and communicate by responding to cues from facial expressions of adults and their peers.
“I was notified that my 10-year-old had said hurtful words to a classmate who recently lost a parent to suicide — words implying the child was at fault for their parent’s death,” Mann said. “If it were for not having to wear a face mask my child would have been able to read the facial expression and instantly would have connected that what she said was clearly not funny, but extremely hurtful.
“We are conditioning young children to be disconnected, which can affect their ability for compassion, empathy, but also trust and comfort.”
Bohn said the district has had several staff members who have had extended hospital stays due to COVID-19.
“It was scary for us so that’s incredibly important and we can’t have school if we don’t have staff, and they’re not immune at this point,” she said. “Our kids can choose to come to school or not — they can stay virtual if their parents choose for them to be virtual — but our staff, unless they want to quit, have to come to school and so we don’t want them to quit.”
Collins agreed with Bohn, saying if there aren’t teachers, kids can’t come to school.
“There’s no reason to be ugly to anybody about it, it’s a difference of opinion, and we all want to do what’s best for our kids,” he said. “Right now my focus is on doing what’s best for our teachers — keeping them in school.”
On March 3, the Texas Education Agency issued a release that stated its authority to implement operational requirements for public schools remained in effect.
“A public school system’s current practices on masks may continue unchanged,” according to the release from TEA. “Local school board have full authority to determine their local mask policy.”
Mike Deer, who took the podium during public comments, said if TEA is not requiring masks, there should be a choice.
“The governor says schools should follow the minimum standard set forth by the TEA. TEA is not requiring masks,” he said. “The goal should be the least restrictive measure. I think what the school needs to think about is do you want to send parents down the path of pursuing exemptions on a case-by-case basis? Or give them a choice to live and experience school in a way that puts everyone on an equal playing field.”
Bohn said the district has received tons of feedback on both sides of the mask issue and there really isn’t a clear path forward that’s going to make everybody happy.
“We’re in these positions because we are required to make really hard decisions,” she said. “I see what’s happening in the classrooms and our kids are learning at a high level. I’m quite proud of the year we’ve had, given the challenges.”