Marble Falls Independent School District took its own stand against COVID-19 while staying within the state’s legal requirements by passing a resolution strongly urging visitors to wear masks while on school property. During a special board meeting Aug. 9, trustees also approved a new health plan for the 2021-22 school year that reflects recent decisions by the Texas Education Agency.
MASK MANDATES AND VACCINES
Following Gov. Greg Abbott’s July 29 Executive Order (GA-38), public school districts are prohibited from enforcing the use of face coverings inside school buildings. COVID-19 vaccination requirements are also not allowed.
While the Marble Falls school board was meeting Monday evening, Austin ISD trustees were also in session, voting to join the Houston and Dallas school districts in mandating face coverings on campus. Now in defiance of Abbott’s executive order, each district faces daily fines and possible legal action.
“Are we at a point where I think we challenge the authority of the state of Texas? I’m not sure,” said MFISD Superintendent Chris Allen at the board meeting. “What I would say is that I’m more than happy to let the big districts do battle on this issue, and, if as a result of that there becomes legal opportunities for a district our size that we do not currently have, we can discuss those when the time comes.”
New COVID-19 laws, rules, and regulations have put trustees in an awkward position when it comes to student safety, several admitted
“I, like the other (trustees), took an oath. And in that oath, it was to defend the laws of the state of Texas,” Trustee Rick Edwards said. “The other part is balancing (the oath) with (our vision statement) and loving our kids. I think we should not just consider but wholly encourage … that masks are worn.”
QUARANTINES AND CONTACT TRACING
The district’s authority to quarantine those who come in close contact with infected individuals also has been limited, Allen explained. Additionally, the definition of close contact has been changed, according to new guidance from the Texas Education Agency.
Now, individuals who are fully vaccinated and show no COVID-19 symptoms are no longer considered close contacts, despite the fact that fully vaccinated people can still transmit the virus. The guidance was changed because of reported low transmission of the virus in school, Allen said.
“Last year, we had kids wearing masks, we had staff wearing masks, and we did not have the delta variant,” he pointed out.
“The people we can legally quarantine are folks who actually test positive for COVID-19, are diagnosed by a doctor with COVID-19, or who exhibit the symptoms of COVID-19 as determined by a nurse or other medical health care professional,” Allen said. “Against that backdrop, we are also managing the reality of the delta variant, which medical health professionals are very concerned about.”
The approved resolution strongly encourages residents in the district to wear face coverings while in the presence of students and on school grounds. It suggests employees, parents, and guardians “analyze the medical data and engage their healthcare provider in a discussion about the benefits and the potential risks associated with receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Trustees also adopted a health plan adjusted from the previous year’s plan so it remains in line with state law.
“The (plan) is very similar to what we did last year, except the ability to require face coverings has been removed,” Allen said
The updated health plan:
encourages the use of face coverings by students, faculty, and staff on school property without requiring it;
requires a 10-day quarantine for students, faculty, and staff who test positive for the virus or are symptomatic;
increases the disinfecting of classrooms and other high-touch areas;
makes hand sanitizer available to people throughout school buildings;
limits access to special events, such as Friday assemblies, but not athletic events, which are ruled by the University Interscholastic League;
and asks campus visitors to self-screen and not come on campus if they have signs of any illness.
“I have seen the weight that these decisions carry,” board President Kevin Naumann said. “For us to come alongside and say, regardless of what our individual opinions on this matter might be, we do recognize there’s collective wisdom and a collective call to action for our community to stand up and do something to try to protect the kids we serve. That is why I think it’s important to have this resolution.”