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Education

'We Have To Be Heard': Alamo Heights Parents In Medical Field Speak Up About Mask Requirements

Alamo Heights community members outdoors during the Aug. 12 school board meeting.
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Becca DeFelice
Several Alamo Heights parents in the medical field spoke during the district's board meeting Aug 12. 2021.

Updated Saturday, Aug. 21.

A growing number of parents in the Alamo Heights Independent School District who work in the medical field are calling on their school board to implement a mask mandate.

Several attended the board’s regularly scheduled meeting Thursday, Aug. 12; several more spoke during a specially called meeting Tuesday, Aug. 17.

Alamo Heights trustees voted to continue their mask optional policy Tuesday night, while “closely monitor(ing) campus case rates.” They’ve scheduled another emergency meeting to discuss COVID-19 safety protocols Saturday morning at 8.

Laura Lindner, a pediatrician and mother of five, said she got involved after she realized that individual districts were making different decisions about masks.

“The medical professionals are realizing that we have to take the time to speak out, that we have to be loud, we have to be heard. And that we don't want the decisions to be based on other emotions. We want them to be based on facts,” Lindner said.

Based on the level of mask wearing she’s seen during the first week of school, Lindner thinks people may not realize that they can still spread the coronavirus even if they’re vaccinated. She estimates that 90% of students at the elementary school are masked, but her older kids tell her most of their classmates in the junior high and high school don’t wear masks.

“And the same thing everywhere (for faculty),” Lindner said. “We're seeing that not all faculty is masked.”

She’s especially worried a vaccinated unmasked teacher could spread the virus to a class of students too young to be vaccinated.

“And that puts then that class at risk for illness, for needing quarantine, possibly for severe illness or hospitalization, or taking it home to a family member that might be immunocompromised,” Lindner said.

Lindner said masks do a better job of protecting other people than yourself — so an unmasked teacher could spread the virus to her students even if they’re wearing a mask.

The 26 people who signed up to speak during the Alamo Heights board meeting Tuesday were all in favor of masks, according to Alamo Heights mom Ann David. David said 12 were medical professionals, including a few physicians who wrote statements read by someone else. At Saturday's board meeting, Sarah Feldman said she and 6 other people against a mask mandate spoke on Tuesday.

David is part of a newly formed group called the Alamo Heights Community Alliance. They started a petition asking the district for universal masking, social distancing, HEPA filters in classrooms and remote learning for those who want or need it.

She said there is a mix of opinions on masks in her kids’ district, but she and the other Alliance members thought it was important for the board to hear from parents who are medical professionals.

“The Alamo Heights Community Alliance worked really hard to reach out to our networks and ask if there were health professionals who would be willing to come (speak Tuesday night),” David said.

“I knew there were likely many doctors in the district, but between last week on Thursday, where multiple doctors spoke, and then the number who spoke (Tuesday), and the number who are signing the petition — I mean, there are so many, and they’re doing such good work in our community. I'm in awe of them,” David said.

David said the Alliance has collected hundreds of signatures on its petition, including dozens of physicians.

“We have the goal of keeping schools open and keeping kids safe,” David said. “I and the whole Alliance were really impressed with the communication that the district had (last year), the mitigation efforts in schools, and the very robust virtual learning options that were available to students the whole year… That's what many of us were hoping for this year.”

Those policies come at a higher political and financial cost this year. Legal battles over mask policies continue across Texas, even as more local districts heed the recommendations of public health experts and implement mask mandates. Bexar County currently has a temporary injunction from a district judge, allowing the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District to require masks in schools.

Districts with remote learning options, like Austin ISD, must pay for them out of local funds. Alamo Heights and Austin ISD are among the most property-rich districts in the state, potentially giving them more funding to implement remote learning than less affluent neighboring school districts.

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