In spite of parents’ pleas for a mask mandate Tuesday, and increasing COVID-19 infection rates county-wide, Killeen Independent School District Superintendent John Craft said he would not go against the governor’s executive order by implementing a local mask mandate.
A July executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott bans governmental entities in Texas — including all counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials — from requiring or mandating mask wearing.
Four parents, and a Texas Classroom Teachers Association board president, asked the district to consider implementing a local mask mandate during the district’s public comment portion of the school board meeting Tuesday evening.
Austin and Dallas ISDs announced Monday they will be implementing their own district-wide mask mandate, shirking the governor’s executive order. Tuesday, Bexar County officials sued Abbott, seeking the ability to impose a local mask mandate in their schools, according to the Texas Tribune.
“I’m here today as a parent, to beg you, please mandate masks,” Zoila Recinos, of Harker Heights, said Tuesday.
Recinos told the board she is a mother of two KISD students under the age of 12 who are unable to get the COVID-19 vaccination before school returns on Aug. 16.
“I’m concerned about my child and all the other children at KISD,” she said. “This is not a political issue — this is about saving lives. Let’s go do the right thing. My kids’ lives are on your hands. I beg you, please do the right thing.”
Sherry Miller, executive board president of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, urged the KISD board to follow the lead of larger school districts, like Austin and Dallas, who recently announced local mask mandates in violation of Abbott’s executive order.
“As teachers, we are concerned about the safety of all of our students and coworkers,” Miller said. “We are ready to be back with our students, but everyone needs to be safe.”
During Craft’s presentation on the district’s “Return to Learning” plan for the fast-approaching 2021-2022 school year, the superintendent said he encouraged students and employees to vaccinate and wear masks, if possible. But the district’s leader wouldn’t go as far as to recommend the district implement its own mask mandate in violation of the governor’s order.
“The governor’s executive order number 37 is still applicable,” Craft said. “There are definitely two sides, particularly in our community, in regards to mask or no mask. I’d say it’s almost a direct split down the middle.”
The superintendent said there are limits on what the district can do, in regards to COVID-19 preventions, at this time.
“A lot of what we’re implementing does boil down to personal responsibility,” he said.
Craft pointed to the district’s updated public health guide, and a KISD Frequently Asked Questions handout, to try to address parent and employee concerns before the start of the new school year.
“It’s hard to say, ‘Let’s violate a lawful order that’s been issued,’” Craft said.
Board member Corbett Lawler said he applauded the superintendent for not disobeying the governor’s executive order.
“I’d just like to compliment Dr. Craft,” Lawler said. “The point you made about obeying all legal authority — if there’s an authority above us, we’re going to obey all legal authority.”
Fort Hood KISD school employees and students will be required to wear masks, due to a face-covering mandate issued by the Deputy Secretary of Defense.
KISD will continue contact tracing for COVID-19, Craft said, in spite of the state no longer requiring school districts to do so.
“I think it’s just good practice to try to really curtail the potential spread,” Craft said. “While it’s very cumbersome and challenging, my fear is with no mask uniformity, not having the ability to understand who is vaccinated and who isn’t, I think this is going to be a really important measure to implement to curtail any potential spread.”
The district will offer only in-person learning this year — a departure from the combination of virtual and in-person learning platforms offered during the 2020-2021 school year.
To view the district’s updated public health guide visit: https://www.killeenisd.org/phg_faq_general_information.