Midlothian ISD Reverses Decision On Masks, Community Divided

Masks MISD
Screenshot of presentation during Midlothian ISD Board Meeting 4/19/21

To Mask or Not To Mask, Midlothian ISD Board Makes Changes To Mask Requirements

The last day of school in Midlothian ISD is just over four weeks away, May 27, when the doors will close on a challenging year. In a “normal year” teachers would be preparing students for STAAR testing, and kids would be counting down the days to summer vacation. Of course since COVID-19 nothing has been “normal.”

So, with the school year winding down, last night the Midlothian ISD School Board reviewed results from a survey the district used to see where parents stood on requiring masks for the remainder of the school year. As new COVID-19 cases have declined in schools, the requirement of masks was up for debate.

MISD Covid Cases

The survey results showed 54% of staff want to keep the mask mandate for ALL students and staff, with 40% of staff voting to modify the mask mandate to be optional. *Note 30% of staff didn’t participate in the survey.

When looking at the responses from parents, the majority of parents of elementary, middle and high school students said they wanted masks to be optional. Dr. Heathcote noted results may be skewed because the survey could be taken multiple times by the same person/household.

Dr. Heathcote said Dr. Nordstrom and Dr. Moreland feel like masks are still needed but realize the decision lies with the MISD Board.

MISD Board Members Weigh In

Following the presentation of a decline in COVID cases and the survey results, the Board asked Dr. Heathcote questions. Trustee Vineyard expressed he was torn on the decision and looked for some middle ground. He then asked depending on the decision, if parents choose to pull their children from face to face, are they set up for those kids to return to virtual? And the answer is yes, the option to go virtual remains for the rest of the 2020-2021 school year.

Trustee Tobey asked what many parents are wondering, “what prompted this survey, at this time?” With approximately four weeks left many have wondered why rock the boat. The mask survey was conducted by administration due to the requests of parents to give them a chance for their voice to be heard. Ultimately, Trustee Tobey said it feels like they should listen to the wishes of the majority.

Dr. Carpenter explained feedback from parents is split, with parents very divided over the mask mandate. Board President Sanders said “There’s no win, but he’d prefer to err on the side of caution with a few weeks of school left.” He emphasized he doesn’t anticipate this being a requirement or an issue next school year.

Trustee Soto said its an incredibly difficult decision, the Board is in a tough spot because we have to answer to the parents, but at the same time we’re responsible for the teachers and the students. He also questioned the validity of the survey and expressed concern that people may have swayed the results by voting multiple times. “Somebody’s not going to be happy with us, and I understand that. We’re weighing what the parents want alongside what the staff wants.”

Trustee Prather said her concern is consistency. By making a change at this point, it seems unfair to everyone.

Trustee Tobey made a motion for those students that are uncomfortable with face masks to wear a face shield in place of the face mask. This motion was passed 5-1 with the vote against it by Trustee Vineyard.

Parents Are Divided Over Board’s Decision

Midlothian ISD parent Laura Hunt said, “Sadly, last night’s meeting was a defeat for science, an insult to healthcare professionals and is a big blow to everyone’s trust in the district and school board’s ability to listen and make collaborative decisions based on data and consensus. They never should have put this on the agenda again. All it did was stir up anger and distrust on both sides of the mask debate.”

Before last night’s decision many parents said if masks become optional, their children will become virtual learners. Some parents are incredibly frustrated not only with the Board’s decision, but also the immediacy. Starting today, April 20, students have the choice to wear a face mask or a face shield. According to the CDC, face shields do not offer enough protection when used without a mask.

Meanwhile parents on the other side of the debate feel like they’ve been “betrayed”. These parents expressed frustration with the Board’s decision and say their wishes were ignored. This morning parents took to social media forums to express their displeasure with the decision. They reminded residents the polls are open with the official election on May 1. There are three MISD Board seats on the ballot.

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Kristin Barclay
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