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Staff, students want to start school year with respect as mask mandate tensions rise

A parent in Eanes ISD assaulted a teacher by ripping the teacher's mask from their face. The superintendent responded saying everyone should be respectful.

AUSTIN, Texas — While school districts battle with counties that are battling Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over mask mandates, students and staff want to start the school year with a heightened level of respect and grace.

"We've got to give people some grace, they're trying to do the best job they can do, whether they're wearing a mask or not wearing a mask," Dr. Tom Leonard, Eanes ISD superintendent, said.

Tuesday, the school district posted on Facebook saying a parent had assaulted a teacher at one of his schools. The district's spokesperson declined to name the school, the teacher, or the parent involved, as a matter of privacy.

"I want to respect everyone. If you're in a mask, I want to respect you. You're not in a mask, I want to respect you," Leonard said. "If my teacher is wearing a mask, no one should be touching my teacher's mask, period."

RELATED: Eanes ISD parent assaults teacher, ripping mask off her face

Message from Dr. Leonard: The last few days leading to the start of school have been a whirlwind of information and...

Posted by Eanes ISD on Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Mask mandates have sparked frustration and confusion in the days and weeks leading up to the first day of school for the 2021-2022 school year. Many districts have issued orders to make masks optional or mandatory.

In Round Rock ISD, the school district's Board of Trustees voted to make masks mandatory, but give parents a chance to "opt out" of their students wearing a mask. Parents can fill out the form and provide any reason for not wanting their child to wear a mask.

"We do have a mask requirement for all students and staff, and that's the expectation that they would wear a mask to school," Jenny Caputo, the spokesperson for RRISD, said. "That's for indoor only and where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. However, for parents who feel passionately that they don't want their child to wear a mask, there is a form that they can fill out, an opt-out form."

RELATED: Parents, students protest mask orders at Texas governor's mansion

Katrina Venezio, a new teacher at Cedar Creek Elementary School in Eanes ISD, furnished her fourth-grade classroom with reminders of kindness and inclusion.

"We can be anything in this whole entire world: We can be astronauts, we can be teachers, we can be on TV, we can be a newscaster. We can be anything. But at the end of the day, we're really nothing if we're not kind to one another," Venezio said.

Venezio mounted a quote saying "In a world where you can be anything, be kind," on a wall in her classroom, prominently displayed for students to see as soon as they walk in the door. Next to that, she has a whole wall full of descriptors for her students to be reminded of the positive attributes they should aspire to.

"That's why I have this inclusion wall of the 'I am,' everything with every different type of race, color, person under the sun to make them feel loved and included and make them make it known in here that they are welcome in every way," Venezio said.

Even rivals such as Eanes ISD and Lake Travis ISD's students and staff can have differing opinions but show respect toward one another.

"I don't plan to wear a mask right now, but I think that if the delta variant of the virus governs it, that at a point masks they come into the picture," Rian Yamasaki, an incoming junior at Lake Travis High School, said.

"Everybody has like their own personal rights that they can choose to wear one or not. I know I will on campus," Pierce Townsend, an incoming senior at LTHS, said.

LTISD has ordered masks as optional to start the school year.

The underlying message from students and staff across the area has remained consistent: be kind and show each other respect.

"Respect, Aretha Franklin, just respect one another," Leonard said. "We don't have to agree with everyone on everything, but there are little kids. There are little kids here, and the little kids are watching the adults, so my message is, let's just be good, give everyone a little grace."

Eanes ISD responded to questions of filing charges against the parent saying only the teacher who was assaulted has the ability to file any charges. As of Tuesday evening, the district was not aware of the teacher filing any charges against the parent.

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