El Campo trustees voted 5-0 Tuesday to strongly recommend students and staff wear masks instead of requiring them.
The vote followed a review of current mitigation efforts and input from principals on whether to recommend or require masks to students and staff.
The four principals present agreed that students and staff were precautious, and the need for a mandate is unnecessary at this point.
“We have seen about 30 percent of our students wearing masks, and the number is rising,” Myatt Elementary Principal Mauri Couey said. “Since the calls (notifiying parents of positive covid cases on campuses) started going out last week, we definitely have more students and staff wearing them .”
President James Russell and Vice President Anthony Dorotik were not present for the discussion or vote.
The ongoing battle between Gov. Greg Abbott and school districts implementing mask mandates has prompted board concern on determining what is legal.
“We want to make sure we do this right and we are getting no guidance from the governor or TEA,” Trustee Rich DuBroc said. “The most important thing is keeping our schools open and the safety of our students.”
The Texas Supreme court denied Abbott’s request to stop a temporary restraining order on his mask ban but reinstated part of it in San Antonio and its surrounding County on Friday.
The court sided with the Governor in San Antonio because a lower court improperly suspended his ban while the legal challenge played out. The Governor has not tried to refile the request.
“The governor, as it stands right now, isn’t moving forward, so the mandates for whether districts require masks falls on the school board,” ECISD Superintendent Bob Callaghan said. “There are some school districts who now recommended them, require them or make it a personal choice. So there are a lot of options out there for us.”
ECISD is now reporting all confirmed student and staff positive tests after the TEA reversed its guidelines on procedures for COVID-19.
Last week the school reported 44 student and staff members had tested positive for Covid-19.
“We have seen an effort all around to keep our classrooms clean and our students safe, especially the elementary school,” Callaghan said. “They have gone back to social distancing and limiting group activities as much as possible.”
Last year, the most confirmed positive COVID-19 cases reached 62 students and staff members in a five-day period.
The final decision came down to mandating or recommending masks. All board members agreed that a mandate would not be necessary but would still be on the table if a significant outbreak threatened to close school campuses.
Despite the debate on a mask mandate, the board was adamant that face-to-face learning was the school district’s best option.
“There is evidence to support that schools are a safe place to be,” Callaghan said. “Without exception, every one of us wants kids in school and wants face-to-face learning. The data is clear that virtual learning has its flaws.”
The Rand Corporation reports that last year teachers in remote classes reported higher student absences and less student work completed than teachers in face-to-face classrooms.
The 5-0 unanimous decision on recommending masks also included the potential for a vaccine drive for those eligible students who have their parent’s permission and want to participate.