The Killeen Independent School District board of trustees discussed changes to the district’s public health guidelines Tuesday, after a large group of teachers and parents stood outside the administration building calling for a mask mandate to be reinstated in the district.
Gathering 45 minutes prior to the meeting, parents and teachers rallied to demand that KISD issue a mask mandate in response to the latest surge in COVID-19 cases — as 80 other Texas school districts had done recently in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates.
The push comes even as KISD Superintendent John Craft has adamantly spoken against defying that order, stating his obligation to uphold Abbott’s law.
Texas school districts such as Houston, Austin and Dallas have laid down the law on their own accord, regardless of the governor’s orders.
Students in these districts will be required to wear masks, and some will still have access to virtual learning, which the state is not funding this fall.
Last week, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the schools can keep their mandates temporarily, while Abbott’s ban is argued in appellate court.
According to the Texas Education Agency, the governor’s ban will not be enforced while litigation is ongoing.
Craft said he believes having a mask mandate could cost the district up to $1,000 a day in fines if it violates Abbott’s orders. Craft said if he understood that correctly, it could cost the district $171,000 for the year.
Masks are mandated at eight KISD campuses on Fort Hood, because of a Department of Defense directive.
The protest group, mostly in favor of masks, met at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, and so did a group of counter-protesters, who were also parents. advocating for freedom of choice.
About 30-plus people were in attendance on the “for mask mandate” side of the rally. There were about 10-15 people in attendance on the counter side of the argument.
Tensions were high at times, but the rally was otherwise peaceful, with both sides staying where they had set up camp.
Parents opposing a mask mandate expressed the importance of medical choice. Among them was a man wearing a shirt bearing the name “Guardians of Medical Choice,” which is a group established by a woman named Jennifer Bridges, who took legal action against Houston Methodist for mandating vaccines for employees. It was founded May 2021, according to the group’s website.
On the other side of the line, parents and teachers stressed the importance of mask mandates in lowering the threat of COVID-19.
KISD teacher Jennifer Lee, who battled severe complications from COVID, said in front of fellow rally participants that she had to endure reading an email from a student who apologized for being absent from class.
“The student apologized for not being in class because both of her parents died from COVID,” Lee said.
Coverage of the rally can be found in the video section of the Daily Herald’s Facebook page.
Inside the administration building, the KISD school board met to discuss a series of COVID-19 related protocols in light of changes that have caused an uproar among parents and educators, such as discontinuing the public COVID dashboard and leave for employees who come down with the virus.
The meeting opened, however, with heavy public comment from concerned parties who begged Craft and the board to reinstitute the debated mask mandate.
Parents and other residents provided emotion-filled testimony explaining their reasoning for being for or against requiring masks.
One Killeen mother gave the board a picture of her daughter who battled brain cancer at a very young age. She was told she’d only live for a year. That was eight years ago, and now, that young girl is 16 and thriving.
However, doctors said if she came down with COVID she would die, according to her mother’s comment.
“Please don’t kill me,” the mother said on behalf of her daughter who was not present at the meeting.
“Your children, your grandchildren and my child will always remember the time you chose to not break the law over their lives,” Lee said later when she approached the podium.
Parents in opposition also expressed their concerns with the COVID-19 vaccine, citing numerous studies to support their argument.
“Don’t mandate masks,” an employee of KISD said. “When I was hired last year, I wore a mask and was continuously sick,” she said. “I got COVID in December.
Kids’ masks are getting dirty and the kids have bad attention spans and are fussy. I tell them to put their masks over their nose, and feel like I’m harassing them.”
Craft stood by his initial sentiment regarding masks. He said if KISD were to mandate masks, they would be going against Abbott’s order.
Board member Corbett Lawler said the board would be hypocritical if they mandated masks because it would go against the governor’s orders.
“How can we expect our kids to follow the law if we don’t?” Lawler said.
Board member Marvin Rainwater, who mentioned his granddaughter was just diagnosed with COVID, said he is in favor of masks and asked if there was a way the school board could encourage PPE without defying the governor’s orders
For now, Craft said the district is set to receive 40,000 rapid screeners and nearly 45,000-95,000 PPE would be delivered by the Texas Department of Emergency Management.
On that note, the board began to dive into a resolution in which they considered providing an additional 10 days of leave to employees. However, this would only be awarded to those who are vaccinated, but develop a breakthrough diagnosis of COVID-19.
The school board’s action sheet, provided in the online agenda, said the policy acts as an initiative to encourage district employees to get their shots.
Also Tuesday, the board moved to consider a resolution to create a position for a chief medical officer to help support the district’s nursing staff, COVID-19 mitigation plan, campus and department thresholds and the facilitation of general health services across the district.
Another change to the district’s health guide will be to reinstate its COVID-19 Case Dashboard.
Craft showed a model of the dashboard that will be displayed on the district’s website as it was before it was discontinued in May. It tracks cases among students and staff over a 10-day period.