CCISD masks

Copperas Cove ISD Superintendent Joe Burns addresses a parent's concerns about a lack of a mask mandate in the school district and had urged the district to put the safety of students and staff at the top of its priorities.

In response to Nicole Williams, a parent of two in Copperas Cove ISD, at Tuesday’s school board meeting, district Superintendent Joe Burns said the district is “in the eye of a perfect storm.”

Williams spoke Tuesday during the open forum portion to address her concerns about the rising number of coronavirus cases and her desire to see a mask mandate in the school, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that says school districts are not allowed to mandate them.

She also asked questions about testing and virtual learning.

“I think it’s something we need to pursue and really, really dive into and see where that takes us,” Williams said of a mask mandate.

She mentioned that some other school districts in the state have defied Abbott’s order and implemented mask mandates anyway.

“I just wish that we were taking into consideration the words of the prayer that was prayed before we started — the health and wellness of students in CCISD,” she said.

Williams told the board that the mission statement at every Copperas Cove ISD campus, aside from the high school, includes the safety of students.

“It’s extremely serious that we do not take this for granted and we don’t wait for someone to die for us to make decisions that could save lives today,” Williams said.

Burns confirmed after the meeting that no staff members or students have died from the virus as of Tuesday.

Normally, neither school board members, nor Burns will address questions or statements during the open forum, but Burns said he wanted to.

Burns told Williams, and those at the meeting, that the districts that had implemented mask mandates had done so while operating under a temporary restraining order that expired Sept. 2.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has brought lawsuits against some of the districts that had defied the governor’s order. Per the governor’s order, the state will fine districts $1,000 per day for not complying.

Burns said the problem with that is it is not clear if that means $1,000 per day in total, or $1,000 per day per campus, or $1,000 per day per student.

Burns said the three law firms that are under retainer by the district have all advised him and the district to be cautious about interpreting the governor’s order because of the “hammer” Paxton is wielding.

He said the district is also being pulled from all directions.

“We took a tongue lashing last year over parents who were on the opposite side of the spectrum who didn’t want their kids masked; that we were strangling kids, we were causing kids to have all kinds of things and issues because we had masks last year,” he said.

The school district has partnered with the state to participate in a rapid test program where students and staff members who exhibit symptoms, or who have been exposed to those who contract the virus, can get tested by each campus nurse at no cost to them.

Even that is not a perfect system, because in order for the district to administer a test on a student under the age of 18, that student’s parent must consent to the test.

“We have a lot of parents who refuse to have their kid tested and will not permit us to test their kid,” Burns said.

In the meantime, Burns said the district continually urges parents to have their kids mask up and take care of self as well as encouraging them to keep their kids out of school if they are exhibiting symptoms.

“It has become a troubling situation for us that we struggle with every day,” he said.

Burns said the Texas Education Agency told districts that once they go through their allocation of tests, they must purchase them from one of five vendors that have varying prices.

As far as virtual learning is concerned, though Abbott signed Senate Bill 15 from the second called session on Sept. 9, and it went into effect immediately, the new law caps virtual learning at 10% of the student population.

To further make things difficult for the district, those 10% of students must have passed every section of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness and have met all attendance requirements to be promoted.

Also, if the district has to temporarily close campuses due to the spread of the virus, the TEA will not give waivers for time missed.

Burns said after the meeting that the district is still in the process of coming up with a metric to determine whether to close a campus or not.

“They really love to give us these guidelines but no real fixes for how you walk your way out,” Burns said. “And how do you get out of that in a decent and fair way without it costing you a fortune?”

Burns said he has been in the education profession for 34 years, and he will not miss the coronavirus “one iota,” whenever he retires.

“Because there is not a unified and a plain plan for how we manage this crisis across this nation — or even Texas — and everybody is slipping their responsibility and pushing it off to (other) people,” Burns said.

He apologized to Williams for not having a clear or concise answer to her questions.

“We do not require because of the governor’s executive order,” Burns said. “But anyone is free to wear a mask or face shield or anything that they feel like would help them. And I apologize if that’s the best we’ve got right now.”

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