LISD board to revisit mask mandate amid rising student COVID cases
The Lockhart ISD Board of Trustees will hold a special meeting at 3 p.m. Saturday at the administration building to reconsider requiring teachers and students to wear masks.
Also up for discussion is whether to reinstitute a temporary full-time virtual learning option.
The meeting is being called amid discord among Lockhart residents about requiring facial coverings and cases at the district’s campuses that have steadily risen since classes began on Aug. 18.
According to the Lockhart ISD COVID-19 dashboard, through 12 school days, there are 160 active cases at campuses throughout the district among students and employees. Of these active cases, 145 are students.
There were just 184 student cases in LISD during the entire 2020-2021 school year when facial coverings were required and virtual learning was an option.
The spread of cases is happening the most at campuses where students move about more freely, change classes and interact with different students in those classes.
Approximately 97 of the active cases are at Lockhart’s secondary schools, with the high school making up 51 of these cases.
School funding in Texas is based in part on average daily attendance.
A vote for a mask requirement would represent a near 180-degree turn by the board, which just 10 days ago voted resoundingly against mandating facial coverings.
On Aug. 23, the board voted 2-5 against a motion by Trustee Dr. Barbara Sanchez to defy Gov. Greg Abbott’s order prohibiting mask mandates by local governments and require the wearing of facial coverings on campuses was soundly defeated in a 2-5 vote.
“It really falls on us — our mission statement says that we need to create a safe environment,” Sanchez said at the meeting. “We’re in a pandemic, the virus is constantly changing, and it’s occurring here in our district.”
District 2 Trustee Rene Rayos was the only other member of the board to side with Sanchez on the vote.
Voting against Sanchez’s motion were Board President Steve Johnson and trustees Tom Guyton, Sam Lockhart, Warren Burnett, and Michael Wright.
Johnson said he believed it set a bad example for teachers, principals and students to defy Abbott. The board president said the only reason school districts were able to pass mask mandates was because district court judges had granted them temporary restraining orders against Abbott’s executive order.
While the governor said a local authority choosing to implement mask mandates could result in fines, it’s unclear how they would be assessed.
“The governor put out an order, and if there wasn’t a county against the governor, there wouldn’t be a temporary restraining order,” Johnson said at the meeting. “We would be going against what the governor is saying. If we go against the governor, what’s to say one of our teachers or students or principals says ‘I know better than you do.’
“That’s us saying that we know better than the governor or any of his medical advisors. It’s (setting) a precedent. If you don’t like what someone says above you, you just don’t have to do it. I don’t have a problem with mask wearing — if you want to wear a mask you can, if you don’t that’s fine. But it says to students/teachers that if you don’t want to listen to someone in power, you don’t have to.”
Guyton said that night he felt it was premature to vote on a mask mandate.
“I just wish this whole issue hadn’t become so politicized throughout this whole pandemic,” he said, noting that his children wear masks and he as a teacher wears his at school. “I do think when you’re in close confined quarters and can’t distance you should wear a mask, and that’s my personal feeling.
“We are at a point where we need to see where this plays itself out in the legal system. Do what you have to do to keep yourself safe and the others around you safe. We’re going to catch colds, going to catch the flu, (children are) going to get sick and catch some things. Just don’t think that tonight we’re in a spot we can mandate something right now.”
During the public comment period on Aug. 23, two parents spoke against a potential mask mandate, and one citizen spoke in favor of one.