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North East ISD Joins Growing List Of San Antonio Schools With Mask Mandates

Bill Labrera speaker anti mask cropped.jpg
North East ISD livestream
NEISD Dad Bill Labrera accused trustees of "playing ping-pong with parental rights every three days" during three hours of public comments Aug. 19, 2021 ahead of a vote to implement a mask mandate.

Students and staff in the North East Independent School District will be required to wear a face mask starting Monday, Aug. 23, to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus delta variant.

North East ISD trustees voted 5-1 in favor of a temporary indoor mask mandate late Thursday night at the end of a six-hour emergency board meeting.

Close to 200 people signed up to speak during the meeting. Public comments lasted three hours and revealed a deep divide among parents filled with fear, anger and frustration.

The majority of speakers appeared to be parents who didn’t want a mask mandate, although many people, including infectious disease specialists and hospital doctors on the front lines of the pandemic, also spoke in favor of universal masking. Trustees said they received 900 emailed comments, and 67% said they wanted a mask mandate.

Parents who wanted NEISD to keep masks optional called mandates a violation of their freedom. Vernon Merrill was one of several parents who said a mask requirement violated the constitution.

“If someone would have told me that I would be fighting an oppressive regime who wants to force my daughter to wear a face covering, I would assume it would be the Taliban,” Merrill said. “But this isn't happening in Afghanistan. This is San Antonio, this (is the) United States of America, land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Parents who wanted universal masking said the district had a moral obligation to keep kids safe and follow the advice of public health experts.

Brittany Heller said she had two kids in an NEISD elementary school.

“Most every adult in America has the opportunity, the freedom and the right to help protect their health through vaccination, except our youngest citizens,” Heller said. “Until our children are able to be vaccinated themselves, the least we can do is create the safest school environment possible. It is the inherent responsibility of us, the adults: parents, teachers, staff and administrators, to put the health and safety of our children beyond everything else, including our political beliefs and our personal comfort.”

Many parents who didn’t want their kids to have to wear masks seemed not to trust the scientific expertise of public health experts. Some called masks child abuse. Others said masks don’t work. Statements were sometimes heated and frequently inaccurate.

NEISD’s mask mandate is in effect for up to six weeks, with the option to extend it if needed. Superintendent Sean Maika said the goal was to get kids out of masks as soon as school case numbers show it’s safe.

Southwest ISD, Judson ISD and Somerset ISD also announced mask mandates Thursday night or Friday morning. San Antonio ISD, Edgewood, Harlandale, South San and Northside announced mandates earlier in the week.

The Texas Education Agency said Thursday it would not enforce the governor’s ban on mask mandates while court cases fighting the ban are undecided.

NEISD attorney Rick Lopez told trustees Thursday this was “one of the wildest and most confusing legal battles” he’s ever seen in his “near 22 years of law practice.”

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Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org, on Instagram at camille.m.phillips 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.