A group of seven upset parents showed up at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 31, at the Marble Falls Independent School District administration offices to protest a mask mandate approved by the board of trustees the previous night.
“They’ve got to reverse this unlawful mandate,” said Jake Brydon, one of the parents at the morning protest. “It’s unacceptable.”
Parents against the mandate were also on campuses at the end of the school day handing out flyers to promote a more formal — and loud — protest at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 1, when the mask mandate approved by the school board goes into effect. They plan to meet at the administration offices.
“We are going to make as much noise as we can to let them know there are a whole lot of of us,” Brydon said.
Parents who support the mask mandate don’t plan to organize, but they are no less vocal about where they stand.
“I am so glad that they passed the mask mandate,” said Kara Haggart who has two children attending kindergarten and fifth grade at a private school because MFISD was not previously requiring masks. “I think we should be masking until a vaccination for kids is available.”
The school board approved the mandate for all MFISD campuses through Oct. 1.
“They are trying it out for a month to see if the (COVID-19 case) numbers go down,” parent Tiffany Contreras said. She has three children in public schools, one each in second, third, and fourth grades. “We’ve been wearing masks, so it’s no change for us. I am just hoping they can get the numbers to go down.”
Case numbers on campuses are what drove the board to consider a mask mandate in the first place. At the Tuesday meeting, MFISD Superintendent Chris Allen was asked if the district was having trouble keeping classes open because teachers were getting sick.
“We’re worried about having enough kids to keep the buildings open,” he answered. “The (average daily attendance) at Highland Lakes Elementary School is 77 percent. It’s 83 percent at Colt Elementary.”
Because so many teachers were in quarantine the previous week, the district had to shut down Highland Lakes Elementary School in Granite Shoals for 2½ days. It reopened Monday, Aug. 30. The number of cases has been on the rise districtwide since students returned to school Aug. 18, with spikes on Aug. 23 and Aug. 30. The numbers can be tracked daily on the district’s website.
“The numbers have shown that what we’ve heard about the delta variant (of the virus) spreading easily is real,” said Deborah Vanicek, who has a freshman and a senior at Marble Falls High School. “This way, we can continue to go to school and we can continue our lives and protect our community.”
Requiring masks rather than merely recommending them was necessary, she said, because “when recommended, very few people were actually doing it.”
The requirement is what has Jessie Wallace upset. She has three children, one each in kindergarten, eighth grade, and 10th grade. She complied with the decision to require masks last year but not now.
“When Governor (Greg) Abbott put out the mask mandate last year, we respected that and did what was asked of us,” she said. “Now, the governor has given another mandate, and we aren’t respecting it. We are doing the opposite of what he’s asked of us.”
Superintendent Allen said the decision comes down to keeping kids healthy.
“We are doing everything we can to create environments that will allow students to stay in school,” he said. “The recent surge in COVID cases is making it very difficult to maintain school operations given the tools that we have available. So the district has added an option to help kids and staff stay healthy.”
Mother Christy Christian agreed. Her fourth-grader has only been to school one day this year. He came home from the first day of school with COVID-19 symptoms and has been in quarantine ever since. When he returns this week, he will be wearing a mask.
“I feel like they are doing the best they can,” Christian said of the school board. “They are not going to make everyone happy.”
A mother against the mask mandate said she just wanted the decision to be left up to the parents, not the district. Wanda Maynard said her third-grade child was getting sick from wearing a mask. She, her husband, and child have all had COVID-19.
“I’m very emotional and passionate about this,” she said. “I just want to do what’s best for our children.”
Another supportive parent expressed dislike for the term “mask mandate.”
“I’ve been saying ‘required masking at school’ because it’s less negative sounding,” said Kelly Green, who has a 3- and 6-year-old who are not in the MFISD system. “I don’t think masking is negative. If we want to keep kids in school, we have to do what we can do, and we can’t do very much. We don’t have that many tools in our tool box. It’s reasonable to try masking for a while. I don’t think it will hurt, and it might help.”
Parents on both sides of the issue are calling for civility.
“This is all about our community,” Vanicek said. “Nobody wants to wear masks. Nobody enjoys that. We are just trying to find the best way forward.”
“I respectfully want to do what’s right, but I believe (not mandating masks) is right,” Wallace said. “I believe, collectively, there has to be another way rather than having these kids forced to wear masks.”