District rolls back mask mandate

Decision draws ire of teachers, parents and students


Parker Maroney

Comal ISD announced Tuesday night that it would no longer require masks in its schools. The move drew backlash for both its result and process.

By Jackson Posey, Smithson Valley High School

Comal school trustees voted Tuesday to allow parents and teachers the choice whether to wear masks.

After the meeting, Comal ISD sent an email to parents explaining their new mask policy, which flew in the face of both Centers for Disease Control and Texas Education Agency guidance and precedents set by other area districts.

“We know that our success can be directly attributed to our health and safety protocols,” wrote David Drastata, president of the district’s board of trustees. “That said, we are also about giving parents choice. To that end, the Board of Trustees has amended our health and safety guidelines to allow parent and teacher choice with regards to face coverings effective March 10.”

The email also addressed new quarantine protocols, which concurrently took effect on Wednesday.

Students determined “close contacts” with confirmed positive cases will still have to quarantine, but that only applies to students who aren’t “properly masked.” Students who do wear face coverings will not be required to quarantine. Face shields and neck gaiters will not be considered sufficient to avoid a mandated quarantine.

This flies counter to CDC guidelines, however, which states that “a person is still considered a close contact even if they were wearing a mask while they were around someone with COVID-19.”

It also breaks with the TEA’s latest guidance, which states that schools “must comply” with mask-related guidelines. In most cases, “every student, teacher, or staff member shall wear a mask over the nose and mouth,” according to guidance issued March 4.

The new district guidelines come a full week after other districts, such as Northeast ISD, announced their plans to continue mandating masks. Comal ISD is the only San Antonio-area school district to roll back mask mandates.

On March 5, three days after Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order GA-34 announced the end of state mask mandates, the district Board of Trustees scheduled a meeting for 6:00 p.m. on March 9, the day before the state mandate ended. Two hours after the meeting commenced, the email was sent out to parents.

That announcement, distributed to parents beginning at 8:08 p.m., wasn’t accompanied with any public acknowledgement.

At press time, the district had yet to acknowledge the change on any social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Superintendent Andrew Kim, whose Twitter account boasts over sixty-one thousand Tweets, remained silent on the issue.

Those factors – privately announcing a major change just 12 hours before that change goes into effect, and not acknowledging the change publicly – didn’t stop social media users from burying the decision.

“Huge disservice to teachers/staff and kids who want to learn on campus,” tweeted one mother. “I would love to see a bunch of teachers take some days [off].”

Similar sentiments were expressed by students, many of whom were considering returning to in-person learning, but have now abandoned that idea.

“I think that taking away the mandatory mask rule is taking away learning opportunities for so many people,” said one student, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “A member of my family has to go to in-person school to learn, and now my whole family is getting put at risk. And it feels insulting that the only way we are being protected is a strong encouragement to keep wearing them (masks).”

The backlash came fron district employees as well, who were almost universally upset about the decision and lack of forewarning. Teachers found out about the new guidelines at the same time as parents, or later, and none were consulted about the change. Students and parents weren’t asked for input either.

“It’s the ‘we didn’t ask for a single ounce of input from the people teaching on the frontlines during this global pandemic’ for me,” tweeted Cattie Hall, a first-grade teacher at Mountain Valley Elementary.

Another teacher, Smithson Valley Middle’s William Daugherty, announced that he will continue to wear a mask because his cancer puts him at high risk.

On Wednesday, a large numbers of students continue to wear masks, but few teachers have received both vaccine doses, and few students have qualified for their own shot.

This story was originally published on Valley Ventana on March 10, 2021.