Opinion: Comal ISD Teacher Criticizes Trustees’ Unilateral Decision-Making on Masks
by Kate Fraser
Mother of Canyon High School student, Comal ISD teacher, and administrator of Open Comal Schools Safely Facebook page
(Editor’s Note: Comal ISD Board of Trustees on March 5 scheduled a special March 9 meeting to decide whether or not to continue the district’s mask policy after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the mask mandate on March 10. On the evening of March 9, board President David Drastata emailed parents to let them know face-coverings are now optional for students and staff. Click here to read about that. Click here to watch the video of the March 9 meeting.)
Whether you agree with the Comal ISD Board of Trustees’ decision to make masks optional or not, I hope that we can come together as a community and agree that how this decision was made was not fair to any of us.
The Board of Trustees made a unilateral decision to significantly change the safety protocols we had in place with no real opportunity for public input. This decision went against recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, Texas Education Agency, county health officials, our campus leaders, the district point-person for safety, and even our superintendent, Andrew Kim.
Why change what was clearly working?
This decision became effective less than 12 (mostly overnight) hours after it was made, giving school administrators no time to discuss and coordinate this change in protocols with campus staff, and no time to prepare or communicate these changes with students and parents.
From what I could tell from watching the video of the meeting where this decision was made, with the exception of possibly a reporter, there does not appear to be a single person present who is not a trustee or a district employee who works at Support Services (district office).
Holding a meeting like this without having representation from the various stakeholders within the district, or at least some kind of quantifiable data showing community support for changing safety protocols that have proven to be relatively successful thus far, was wrong.
How this decision was made was not fair to any of us — not to parents, not to students, not to teachers, not to administrators, not to staff, not to our communities, and especially not fair to the remote learners who have been off-campus for 75-percent of the school year already.
We pride ourselves on being a bastion of democracy and fiercely protective of individual rights. If we truly embrace these ideals and want to live them, then our district should have allowed for the various voices of our community to be heard and recognized. Whether you support the decision made by the trustees or not, we all deserved an opportunity to be heard and have our perspectives considered.
I love my community, school, job, and especially my students. I am speaking out because I genuinely want the best for all of my students. While we may not agree on what that is, which is okay, but we all deserve an opportunity to participate in the discussion and be heard by those elected to guide and lead our district.
I wept Tuesday evening when I learned of the board’s decision. The reality hit me that the students who have had traveled the most difficult path this year, the students who have been 100-percent remote, will likely remain remote because of this change in the safety protocols.
I mourn the missed opportunity to really get to know those remote learners. I mourn not having little nicknames for them based on their personality or inside jokes. I mourn not knowing what quirks we may have in common or what silly phobias we share. I mourn them knowing I’m an adult who cannot walk for a whole day without tripping or knocking something over so they aren’t as embarrassed when they trip over a backpack. I selfishly mourn for not fully understanding the unique ways in which my 30-plus remote learners are amazing.
For these students, the trustees’ decision is really not fair.
Comal ISD, as a community, has asked a lot of teachers and school staff this year-above and beyond what most districts in Texas have asked. Despite how much we love your children and our jobs, many of us are at a breaking point and are looking for employment in any district other than Comal.
If we, as a community, want to be able to recruit and retain high-quality teachers and staff we have got to do better. A catered Olive Garden lunch, sweet treats in our boxes, and jeans passes do not make up for excluding teachers from discussions and decisions that directly impact our health (physical, mental and emotional), ability to do our jobs (which includes keeping our students safe), the health and well-being of our families and all the other duties as assigned. (That last part is a little teacher humor.)
How this latest decision was made was wrong because our voices were not heard — all of our voices. So, how do we fix it? How do we, come together as a community, make this right? I hold no faith that the trustees will make it right unless an overwhelming majority of us demand that they do something.
We all deserve to have our voices heard and considered. I’m open to suggestions, especially from those who support the trustees.
How do we as a community fix this?