Finishing out the current school year before making drastic mask changes, in the Marion School Board president’s opinion, was a better idea than what his colleagues ultimately chose.
The district had just about two months of school left last week when board of directors trustees voted 5-2 in favor of allowing faculty and students to choose whether mask wearing is for them. They did so after mask policies and procedures worked for the majority of the school year and continued to serve the district well, board President Mike Purcell said.
“I think if we could’ve carried those out for eight more weeks, I think there’s no reason to believe they would’ve stopped working those last eight weeks,” he said. “Even though I personally disagree with the position of the board, if the majority of the board decided to do that, I will support that position as policy.”
New procedures went into effect Monday no longer requiring masks be worn on school property, Superintendent Kelly Walters Lindholm said.
“As per [Texas Education Association] Public Health Guidance, the governing board of a school system may modify or eliminate the mask wearing recommendation,” according to a message the district sent parents Thursday morning. “At our monthly board meeting on March 31, 2021, our board elected to eliminate mandatory mask wearing for all students and staff at Marion ISD.”
While not required to wear face coverings on school property, individuals may continue wearing masks if they choose, the message read.
The school board also elected to modify the definition of close contact to exclude anyone properly masked from quarantine, it read.
The board’s vote came following an action item on the meeting agenda. Trustee JC Batey moved to allow student and staff choice on whether to wear face mask coverings, Lindholm said.
Trustee Craig Flathouse joined Purcell’s vote to deny the motion. Everything was working fine and he saw no need to make changes this semester, Purcell said.
“The other thing that was certainly provided to us as part of the background information was the superintendent conducted a survey,” he said. “That survey was provided to us and 2/3 of the staff wanted to leave the guidelines in place as we had them.”
Himself not necessarily a fan of masks, he recognized that they appeared to have helped prevent school closures or cancelation of events due to COVID-19, Purcell said. The district went the majority of the school year with no shut downs, he said.
District leadership quarantined some students and rescheduled some events but avoided shut downs and cancelations, Purcell said.
“That told me the policies we had in place were working,” he said. “My comments to the board that night was ‘let’s keep the policies in place and finish out the school year.”
The district disseminated a survey about a week before the board meeting, Lindholm said. She said the survey contained two options: continue following COVID-19 protocols in place requiring all staff and students to wear masks or not continuing to follow those protocols.
In response, 98 staff members selected the option to keep masks while 55 staff members selected the option to discontinue following the protocols, Lindholm said.
Staff members will do their best to finish the year strongly, Purcell said. Their efforts will include implementing policies including mask choice as the board decided, he said.
The decision came following Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement last month rescinding his statewide mask mandate and reopening Texas businesses to 100% capacity. The TEA released it’s guidance the following day saying schools must continue to wear masks unless directed otherwise by their governing boards.
Lindholm took the decision to her board and it voted March 31 to remove the district’s mask mandate.