By Andrew Keshner
Now there’s physical confrontation.
In an open letter Tuesday to parents and staff at Eanes Independent School District in Austin, Texas, school superintendent Tom Leonard urged adults to behave themselves.
So far, the district has already had parents “yelling at a teacher to take off her mask because they could not understand what the teacher was saying while her face was covered,” he wrote.
In another instance, “a parent physically assaulted a teacher by ripping a mask off her face,” Leonard said.
Here’s the educator’s message to everyone:
At the very least, Leonard wants the grown-ups to keep the strife away from kids. If there’s disagreement, “please take it outside, off our campuses and out of our schools,” he wrote .
The district has approximately 8,000 K-12 students and “the vast majority” of students and staff are masked up inside school buildings, especially at the elementary level, Leonard said.
Earlier this summer, school districts across the country were evenly split 40%-40% on mask requirements with another 20% still undecided, according to one survey.
Leonard’s appeal comes at an especially tenuous time for these rules in Texas and elsewhere. Texas has a law saying school districts cannot enforce mask mandates, matching a handful of other Republican-leaning states. (Texas Gov. Greg Abbot on Tuesday announced he had contracted COVID-19 despite being vaccinated . )
Several Democratic states have orders requiring masks at schools. With the delta variant’s spread, everyone in school buildings, regardless of vaccination status, should be masked, according to recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After litigation earlier this month, Travis County — where the Eanes Independent School District is located — has a mask mandate in place for now. If the case comes before the state’s high court, the county-level mandate could dissolve with a reversal of the lower court’s decision.
The Texas Supreme Court has already temporarily halted t he mask mandates that local leaders sought in Dallas and San Antonio.
In the meantime, Leonard said he and school officials are stuck in a spot where they have a mandate over their heads but no way to enforce it. So the district will “encourage and highly recommend masks” but at the same time, “We will not make our staff the ‘mask police’ with no authority to enforce the rule,” he wrote in the letter.
Leonard could not be reached for comment on whether there would be any consequences for the mask-ripping parent.
Across the country, some recent polling suggests the majority of parents support mask mandates in schools. Almost two-thirds (63%) of parents said their child’s school should require unvaccinated students and staff to wear masks on school grounds, the Kaiser Family Foundation poll sai d.
But there are political divides on requiring masks in schools: 88% of Democratic-leaning parents backed the idea while 69% of Republican-leaning parents opposed it, the poll noted.
That’s how parents feel, but what about the kids who have to wear the masks?
Some research suggests they’re less worked up than some parents.
For example, nearly 70% of high school seniors graduating last spring wore a mask while walking up to receive their diploma from one school district, according to findings published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Almost 19% had a mask fit problem (like a drooping mask) and nearly 10% had no mask.
The ceremonies at the unidentified district unfolded in a county where 63% of voters chose then-President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, the study noted.
Indiana University sociologist Anna Mueller, the study’s lead author, has also been closely watching the twists and turns of one Colorado school district for more than two years in other research.
In that time, she’s interviewed students, educators, and parents and observed classes and school board meetings. Educators say students have gone along with mask rules and the students she’s interviewed regard masks as a necessary inconvenience.
With masks, Mueller said, “a lot of kids I talked to mentioned keeping their family safe.”
For Mueller and her team, it seems the controversy in that Colorado district over masks is “much more confined to the parent population debating with the school board about policies.”
Back in Texas, Leonard said however people felt, they need to go easy on the educational staff doing the work of schooling day in and day out. “Our staff are on the front lines of this pandemic; let’s give them some space and grace,” he wrote.