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Northside ISD Students And Staff Must Wear Masks In School

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Northside ISD
Northside district leadership applaud a new teacher arriving for New Teacher Academy last week.

Masks will be required at San Antonio’s largest school district on the first day of school.

Trustees of the Northside Independent School District voted unanimously for a “temporary indoor mask mandate” Tuesday night, after hearing from dozens of people on both sides of the issue. The mandate goes into effect on Aug. 23, the district’s first day of school.

Unlike most other San Antonio school districts, Northside ISD did not change its mask policy when the Metropolitan Health District directed public schools to require masks last week. District officials said they did not want to confuse parents by changing policies multiple times while the legality of mandates is argued in court.

Northside straddles the line between the City of San Antonio and its suburbs. During public comments, numerous people spoke both for and against masks.

Public comments on the mask debate lasted an hour, with each speaker limited to one minute. Roughly 50 people signed up to speak.

The school board’s discussion of COVID-19 safety policies drew close to 50 public comments and lasted an hour. Each speaker was limited to one minute.

5th grader Jeanette Rodriguez was one of dozens of people who asked the board for a mandate.

“My great-grandma died because of this, and I have four other grandparents that I am worried for. I am not vaccinated and they are forcing me to go to school and no kids there are vaccinated because we are too young. The delta variant is more dangerous for kids,” Jeanette told the board.

“My friends and I don't want to get sick. I ask if you please make masks mandatory, at least for us too young to be vaccinated.”

Dozens of people also spoke against a mandate. Josh Kay was one of several people who told the board requiring masks went against personal freedom and parental choice.

“To me, it's kind of a striking difference, like one side's demanding mandates, and everybody to go along with what they say. And the other side's saying, we should have freedom, we should have liberty, we should have parental choice over our children,” Kay said.

“There are reasons to mask your kids and reasons to not mask your kids. And if you want to mask your kids, go ahead and mask them. If you don't, if you got reasons to not mask them, then we shouldn't be forced to mask them either.”

San Antonio hospitals have seen more children admitted for COVID-19 recently. Physicians and public health experts say wearing a mask in school is the best way to protect kids, especially children under 12 who are too young to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

After hearing public comments, Northside trustees went into closed session to consult with their attorney. When they returned to open session, trustee Carol Harle made a motion to “temporarily impose an indoor mask mandate for all district students, staff and visitors effective 8/23/21” and to “authorize the superintendent to adjust” the mandate “as appropriate given local circumstances and report such adjustments to the board.”

During Northside’s convocation earlier in the day, Superintendent Brian Woods told his staff that he and the board were going to do what “we think is best for our kids and our staff…whether that complies with (somebody else’s) mandate or not.”

“I don't want to operate under a mandate. I want to operate based on data. You know, imagine that,” Woods said. “And if things get better — and they will — then we want to adjust that way. And if things don't, if things get worse, we want to adjust again. And if things are rough at one campus, we want to be able to adjust there without adjusting everywhere else.”

“We're going to do what's best for our kids,” he added. “And then we're going to go back to focusing on our core work: teaching and learning, caring for kids socially and emotionally, and we're not going to worry about wearing a mask or not wearing a mask, or at this school we are and at this school we aren't.”

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Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.