Mask Advocates Plan to Challenge Comal ISD Trustees at Thursday Board Meeting
Comal ISD trustees who voted to rescind the district’s mask policy at a special March 9 meeting — their first in nine years — are expected to get an earful from angry parents at their 6 p.m. Thursday, March 25 monthly meeting.
Parents want to know why they didn’t consult with experts, educators or parents first.
Open Comal County Schools Safely, a Facebook group that closely monitors the district’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is expected to present a petition with thousands of signatures that asks trustees to reconsider their decision and make masks mandatory for the remainder of the school year or until all teachers are vaccinated.
Trustees will meet at the district’s Support Services building, 1404 IH-35 North, New Braunfels. The meeting cannot be viewed live, online. Parents must attend the meeting to speak publicly either for or against the trustees’ March 9 decision to make mask-wearing optional. To watch a YouTube video of the March 9 meeting, click HERE.
Single Member District (SMD) #6 Trustee Marty Bartlett, who voted to make masks optional, is worried about what might happen during the public-comments forum.
He emailed a parent today asking her to show up and support trustees.
The parent, Jennifer Kipp, shared that communication on another Facebook group, Unmask Comal County, TX, which is private.
“It appears that there will be a great deal of disagreeing voices coming to our board meeting tomorrow night,” Bartlett wrote to Kipp. “So that the board members do not only hear one side trying to get them to change their decision, it would be great if you or some others with similar views could also come out to the meeting Thursday evening at 6:00 at the CISD office. Thank you and hopefully, we will soon have all of this behind us.”
Unlike Open Comal Schools Safely, Unmask Comal County, TX is “tired of regulations that hurt our children and break society” and urges followers to “think for yourself and be free.”
In addition to Bartlett, SMD #5 Trustee and board Secretary Michelle Ross, SMD #3 Trustee and board Vice President Jason York (who represents Canyon Lake), and SMD #7 Trustee Cody Mueller voted in favor of rescinding the mask mandate. SMD#1 Trustee and board Treasurer Tim Hennessee and SMD #4 Trustee Russell Garner voted against lifting the mask mandate. Supt. Andrew Kim favored keeping masks.
Speaking at the March 9 meeting, Hennessee said he opposed lifting the mask mandate because most staff at the six campuses in his SMD wanted masks to remain mandatory.
Comal ISD Board President David Drastata, who sparked controversy last year for referring to COVID-19 as the ‘China virus’ in an email to parents, notified parents of the policy change in an email following the vote.
“While the choice to wear a face mask is now up to you, please note that quarantine protocols will still be in effect,” he said. “We strongly recommend the continued use of face coverings to protect our teachers and staff, and your child’s opportunity to participate in spring sports, fine arts, prom, and potentially graduation.”
Petition Challenges Trustees
According to Open Comal Schools Safely’s petition, which will be presented to the board:
“The Comal ISD board decided 5-2 to change the safety and health protocol for all district staff and students. This is done in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic without input from parents or staff.
“While the decision is left to parents to decide whether to wear masks, this compromises the health of many students and staff. Making masks optional for some puts undue stress and risk to students and staff and makes it more difficult to keep everyone safe. Not to mention the liability Comal ISD is subject to.
“Changing the mask protocol as the COVID-19 vaccine is beginning to become available to educators is callous. The hasty decision without constituent input is unbecoming of elected officials.
“Keeping masks mandatory at Comal ISD will provide a safe-and-healthy environment where students and teachers can thrive.”
As of Thursday evening, some 2,542 people have signed the petition. Click here to view or sign the online request.
A counter-petition started by Candice S. on change.org seeks to thank trustees “for returning the responsibility of making decisions for our children’s health to the parents, where it should have always been. ”
As of Thursday evening, the petition received 750 votes.
Parents Speak Out
Parents opposed to lifting the mask mandate also criticized the district for waiting until the last minute to post notification of its March 9 meeting. They said the agenda was unclear about items under consideration.
Several of them were dissatisfied with the responses they received from Bartlett, who also referred them to Steve Stanford, executive director of Communications for Comal ISD.
However Bartlett told one parent, Ben Toalson, the meeting was “fully noticed to the public, no one signed up to speak against the issue. There is currently no plan to change the decision from that night.”
Toalson said he reached out to Bartlett so he could understand what criteria might merit restoring the mask mandate. He also asked whether the board consulted with any experts before arriving at its decision.
“We have six children attending in-person after an extremely difficult first nine weeks,” he wrote to Bartlett. “Everyone of our children was failing in at least one subject. Part of what made us feel it was possible for us to send them to in-person was the fact that certain health protocols were mandatory. The board is putting the weight of the decision onto parents, many of whom, like us, are faced with choosing between increasing the risk to our family and putting other children in a situation where they will struggle again (and cause difficulty in our jobs)…to pull away this layer of protection before all of the teachers have had an opportunity to be vaccinated seems callous.”
Mona Ramirez, whose children attend Pieper Ranch Middle School and Smithson Valley High School said she initially reached out to Bartlett because she wanted to understand the research behind the board’s decision.
“Initially, I thought he had done research, because he told me, and I wanted to follow his logic to understand a decision made on behalf of my children and the community,” she told MyCanyonLake.com. “Then I started reading posts from disappointed teachers and parents indicating a lack of input on this decision. I questioned, what kind of elected official doesn’t do due diligence and seek constituent input before making a decision with the potential to harm those most vulnerable?”
“Then, I viewed the entire board meeting and was appalled at the absurd and unscientific evidence he presented as ‘doing his scientific research,'” she said. “The research he cited could be found on a few non-science websites and the parts he quoted were highly misleading. I am disappointed that my tax dollars are being used to supplant this type of tomfoolery in education.”
Ramirez kicked off the petition calling for the board to reconsider its decision.
The board’s decision also was criticized by Canyon High School students, who protested outside their high school last week.
Comal ISD’s decision followed on the heels of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order rescinding the statewide mask mandate on March 10. New Braunfels ISD said it will require students to wear masks through the end of the school year.