With the first week of the fall semester over, San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District students and staff continue to wear face masks as part of the district's mandatory mask mandate.
The district's mask mandate was adopted after a 6-1 vote by the SMCISD Board of Trustees during a special school board meeting on Aug. 12. During the meeting, parents and local citizens against the mask mandate issued verbal attacks, warnings and threats toward the board members, calling the mandate unconstitutional as it defies Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order.
In May, Abbott banned the enforcement of masks in government-funded establishments, including public offices, buildings and public schools. Disobeying the executive order could result in fines up to $1,000.
SMCISD Executive Director of Communications Andrew Fernandez says the initial decision to mandate masks on the district's campuses was influenced by the increase in local COVID-19 cases and the need to protect students.
“I think for us, we're just looking at the local data that our health officials provide us that the rise in cases [in] young adults and young children are on the rise. If we could just go that extra step and wear a mask, why not take that extra step," Fernandez says.
Other K-12 school districts across the state have also enforced mask mandates of their own. Because of conflicts in Abbott's ban, the Texas Supreme Court has allowed schools to require masks.
While many comments at the meeting were against the enforcement of masks, SMCISD Trustee At-Large Anne Halsey says she received countless messages of support before and after the meeting.
"So, that was a lot of people reaching out to me, and overwhelmingly, like 80% of them were in support of requiring masks," Halsey says. "I think we had a few people who were very vocal, they're in the vocal minority that showed up at that meeting, wanting to be heard, which is fine. But, we had a very large silent majority that was not present at that meeting.”
The trustees decided not to address the lifting or change in a mask mandate until January 2022. Fernandez says this is still the plan and the school board will work with its attorney if need be.
“As far as we know, with the executive order, you know, our mask mandate is still in place and that's where we lean on our district attorney for guidance on if the mask mandate changes in any way, but as of right now, we are pushing forward with the mask mandate and we'll follow that until our attorney or board decides," Fernandez says.
Fernandez says most families have been accepting of the mask mandate. However, he understands every family is different when it comes to their wants and needs. Fernandez adds the district is remaining transparent with its students and their parents by reporting positive cases and updating its COVID-19 dashboard. As of Aug. 30, there are 21 active student cases and six active staff cases, according to the dashboard.
"Our families have been super responsive to the mask mandate. We truly appreciate them for working, you know, together and cooperatively, especially during the summer with the numbers going up in our county and around Texas," Fernandez says.
Melissa Zader, a resident of Kyle, Texas, says she is proud of SMCISD for issuing a mask mandate and even went to Facebook to applaud the district, wishing her school district would follow suit.
“I believe a mask mandate is extremely important for school districts, especially for the elementary level, they aren’t able to get vaccinated," Zader says. "So, a mask is the best level of protection they have at this point. Studies show when everyone is masked it reduces the level of transmission by 70%. My friends and family are masked and so are our children in order to do our part. None of us enjoy wearing a mask, but we need to do everything in our power to protect each other, especially our vulnerable children.”
Marceia Ware, a San Marcos resident and mother of two, is also happy about SMCISD enforcing masks and says it was the best approach to make during this time.
“I feel like it's the best idea. I personally think that when the governor said that it was okay for people to not wear the mask anymore, you know, or as often, that that's when the problem arose. Especially for the young kids going back to school because, you know, it's just so many of them, they all have to be in the same building. It just makes sense, really, to me," Ware says.
As a mother of three SMCISD students, Halsey expresses the comfortability in knowing her children have another layer of safety when attending school. However, she still worries about the virus as her youngest child is unable to get vaccinated.
“I feel a lot better than I did before this was in place, I’m still nervous," Halsey says. "My two older children are of age to be vaccinated and they are both fully vaccinated and, you know, luckily, knock on wood, they've been safe, so far, and they've been able to participate in activities starting off this fall. My youngest is not able to be vaccinated and it's worrisome to me, but I feel much better about it knowing that he and his classmates are all wearing face masks and taking precautions.”
The district is not requiring vaccinations but is strongly encouraging those eligible to get vaccinated. Fully vaccinated students and staff will not need to stay home or quarantine if exposed to a positive case at school. Halsey asks that more community members continue to get vaccinated if they can and hopes that masks will no longer be necessary one day.
"We understand why this is necessary, we hope this doesn't last forever. I agree I want it to be as short lived as possible, but we have to do what we have to do to keep kids in the classroom," Halsey says.