To no avail, many Argyle ISD parents gathered Monday night at the district board meeting to ask that the district lift its mask mandate for students in fourth grade and up.
Earlier this month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he was lifting the statewide mask mandate, going against ongoing CDC guidelines for reducing the spread of COVID-19. The Texas Education Agency then said that school districts can keep their existing safety measures, including requiring students to wear masks, and all the local districts — including Argyle — chose to keep their mask requirements through the end of the school year.
That didn’t go over well with Argyle parents, so the district added a discussion about the mask requirement to Monday’s agenda. A large number of parents and a few students addressed the board during the public forum near the top of the meeting, asking them to let students choose whether to wear masks or not. Some said their kids got headaches from wearing masks, while others cited mental health and breathing difficulties caused by wearing masks. Some questioned the dangers of COVID-19 and the efficacy of mask-wearing.
During that public forum, only two people — student council co-presidents Jackson Barnes and Savannah Packebush — showed support for requiring masks through the end of the school year. They talked about extracurriculars that got canceled last year, and they don’t want it to happen again.
“I ask that you remember that some of your students are still competing this year, and under the current rules regarding a two-week-long quarantine, if we are around other students who have COVID-19 without masks on, our competition season will be taken away from us once again,” Barnes said. “All we want to do is continue to compete and have some form of senior experience … Please don’t make me and so many other students relive losing everything we worked for last year and this year based on wearing a piece of cloth on our face.”
After the public forum and during the board discussion, the board asked many AISD teachers and staff to share their thoughts, but they were often interrupted by parents shouting from the hallway. While Sherrie Thompson, the nurse at Argyle High School, spoke about her experience this year, parents in the hall shouted responses at her and falsely yelled that her time was up. All the yelling prompted Thompson at one time to say, “I’m a little scared to walk to my car tonight.”
At one point in the meeting, from the hallway, the parents tried to get a chant of “Let the board vote” going, but the chants were in vain because it was a discussion item on the agenda, not an action item.
Many school teachers and staff members asked the board to keep the mask requirement for two main reasons, one being that eliminating masks in classrooms would mean more students would have to quarantine due to exposure. If students are wearing masks and one tests positive, none of the other students would have to quarantine, but without masks, many students would have to quarantine if a student seated near them tested positive for COVID-19. Such a scenario, teachers said, could cause plays, games and seasons to be canceled, one year after they were canceled because of the onset of the pandemic.
“I saw firsthand how devastated the girls were last year,” said Marc Koke, AHS girls soccer coach. “Besides sports, there’s lots of other extracurricular activities going on this spring, and I want us to be on fair footing with what went down in the fall. I think the reason for our success this year is the masks.”
The other big reason for keeping the mask requirement is that most staff and teachers have not yet been vaccinated. Argyle Middle School Principal Scott Gibson said that the school surveyed its staff and teachers, and about 70% of them wanted to keep the mask requirement.
“If we had had vaccines rolled out, where everyone was getting them in January and everyone already had their second dose, I would be up here maybe saying something a little different,” Gibson said. “But right now, the smart thing to do is for us to get through these last few weeks, to get to the end of the year … and to not have virtual learning next year.”
Gibson also addressed the disruptive parents in the hallway.
“There are some very rude people out there,” Gibson said. “I’m ashamed at what I’m hearing yelled out there from the hallway.”
As the discussion drew to a close, Board President Sam Slaton echoed Superintendent Dr. Telena Wright that, “to speak for the board, we want next school year to be without masks and in person.”
Board Member Ritchie Deffenbaugh said he supported continuing keeping mask requirements, but he said this was a good time to try to make any “common sense” tweaks to rules that staff believe aren’t necessary.
Many of those in support of keeping the mask requirement said they don’t like wearing them, but they’re hoping that by keeping it this school year, they won’t need safety precautions like this for next school year.
“Nobody wants a mask forever,” said Board Member Dr. John Bitter. “There’s a light at the end of tunnel, vaccines are rolling out … when that opportunity (to get vaccinated) has come and gone, we can seriously think about getting rid of masks. But I won’t forget the request that this board made to all of the ISD faculty, which is ‘We’ll protect you if you educate our children in the classroom.’ It’s going to be really hard for me to renege on that agreement.”