Comal ISD school board members heard from all sides Thursday night as residents both supported and criticized their March 9 decision to make masks optional in district facilities.
It was the first board meeting since that 5-2 vote gave students and staffers the choice of wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
That decision drew the ire of parents and teachers, upset about receiving 11 hours notice of the decision, designed to coincide with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that reopened the state from masks and other COVID-19 preventive restrictions March 10.
During Thursday’s meeting, 29 speakers had one minute each to voice opinions,
taken one by one at the dais directly across from trustees seated behind protective screens and in front of an audience almost evenly divided by those wearing masks and those without.
Most were parents of students. One spoke of how her special-needs student regressed from not having the day-to-day interaction with students on campuses. Another special-needs parent was happy her asthmatic child briefly got to interact with masked students before the district’s mask ruling came down days before last week’s spring break.
Others feared mask-less students and staffers might trigger a new spike of COVID-19 cases.
“The limited transmission in the schools is due to mask usage,” one man said, adding district students benefited choosing in-person and on-campus learning options that are now moot because of the numbers choosing now against wearing masks.
“(There aren’t) detrimental effects of kids being denied their personal liberties and forced to wear masks that I know for a fact work, and that masks save lives is an accepted fact in the medical community.”
Others said the mask mandate was an affront to their individual freedoms.
One blamed “the evil, misguided media and their handlers.” Another claimed the district was in its “13th day since (spring break) and there’s no outbreak.” Another state “80% of us are against it.”
Steve Stanford, the district’s executive communications director, said Friday that 83% of all Comal ISD students are now in on-campus learning, up 3% since totals received when the last student choice period ended on Monday.
In keeping with the state’s open meetings law, board president David Drastata and other board members did not comment during that 45-minute session. As they attended to other agenda items, many in the previously standing-room-only crowd departed.
“We will continue to monitor and evaluate our systems and processes related to our health and safety protocols, as we have done all year,” Stanford said on Friday.
Stanford said the remainder of Thursday’s meeting addressed routine matters, including a $1.5 million appropriation to repair facilities damaged by the Feb. 14-20 winter storm. Specht Elementary School sustained the most damage; others included Canyon High School, Canyon Middle School, Pieper Ranch Middle School, Danville Middle School, Arlon Seay Elementary, Spring Branch Middle School and Smithson Valley High School.
Stanford said Specht Elementary, which returned kindergartners and first grade students a week following the storm, could see other grades return “sometime in April.”
Trustees approved expenditures and procurement measures for repairs to those storm-damaged facilities. Also approved was $268,000 for the next round of furniture, fixtures and equipment ahead of opening Pieper High School in August; donations from booster clubs at Smithson Valley and Canyon high schools.
Trustees recognized National Merit Finalists Thomas Conner and Emma Kirchhoff, both from Smithson Valley High School, and aquatics member Laney Skrobanek, a SVHS junior who recently placed 14th in the 100-meter backstroke at her second UIL state meet.
They also recognized Davenport High School’s sophomore powerlifter Lily Falcone, whose fourth-place finish was the school’s first for an individual in state athletics competition.
The board’s next monthly meeting begins at 6 p.m. April 29 in the Comal ISD Support Services Center Boardroom, 1404 Interstate 35 North in New Braunfels. For more, visit the district’s website, comalisd.org.