TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas — As students head back to school at Eanes ISD, Superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard on Tuesday released a letter to guardians and staff regarding some troubling incidents that have happened since the district's decision to enforce a face mask mandate.
Like many districts in the area, Eanes ISD has decided to follow a local Travis County order requiring schools to enforce face masks on campus. This order directly defies the governor's order prohibiting such enforcements.
According to the letter, a parent physically assaulted a teacher by ripping a mask off her face. In another incident, Leonard said a parent was yelling at a teacher to take off her mask because they could not understand what she was saying.
Despite the negativity, Leonard said there have been some "magical moments" as well.
The full letter can be read below:
Parents, Guardians & Staff,
The last few days leading to the start of school have been a whirlwind of information and action from governors, attorney generals, judges, mayors, superintendents and even principals. While many may not agree on the particulars (i.e., masks or no masks), we all want students to be safe and we all should treat each other respectfully.
Campus principals report several “magical moments,” as children and parents return to school - including little ones, in masks - excited to see their friends and meet their teachers. Thank you to all the parents supporting our educators.
Regrettably, there have been a few sad moments, too. A parent physically assaulted a teacher by ripping a mask off her face, others yelling at a teacher to take off her mask because they could not understand what the teacher was saying while her face was covered. This type of behavior will not be tolerated in Eanes ISD. Our staff are on the front lines of this pandemic; let’s give them some space and grace. Please, I am asking everyone to be kind...do not fight mask wars in our schools.
As Silvia Boorstein states in a slide I used last week at Convocation... “the children are watching."
Eanes ISD is following the current Travis County Order, which is in effect and will remain so unless a higher court overturns the recent decision of the 345th Travis County Judicial District Court. The trustees and I take an oath to abide by the laws of Texas. We will follow the law. In doing so, let’s understand exactly what this ruling says and what it regulates.
Unless the Texas Supreme Court eventually rules this order is superseded by an Executive Order from the Governor, the Travis County Order presently mandates masks in all schools in Travis County.
The Order also states two other points worth noting.
- “Compliance with this Order is reliant on self-regulation,” which means we can “highly encourage” or “strongly recommend” mask wearing, but we must rely on the individual student or staff member’s cooperation. In my personal conversations with Judge Andy Brown, who issued the Travis County Order, he confirms we cannot legally apply consequences to a student or staff member who refuses to wear a mask. Even if we were to make masks part of our school dress code, the Travis County Order and particularly the Governor’s Order do not permit enforcement. This is the legal ruling we are bound to follow at this time. The few school districts in Travis County whose boards have formally passed a mask mandate are in the exact same place as Eanes ISD and are also unable to apply consequences for non-compliance, as they, too, have no legal basis to do so.
- The Travis County Order allows school personnel to “...determine when it is not appropriate to require students, staff, and visitors to wear a face covering.” The order leaves any exceptions to the discretion of district administrators. In Eanes ISD, we will not require masks of staff or students if developmentally inappropriate, when eating meals or snacks indoors, when participating in extracurricular activities (including P.E.), and during any outdoor activities.
No matter where the laws ultimately land, for the good of the community during this stage of the pandemic, we will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which “recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.” We also agree with the CDC that, “Children should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with layered prevention strategies in place.” Our hospitals are full at the moment, our medical personnel are under extreme pressure. We are doing our part to help. A full list of our protocols can be found online: https://www.eanesisd.net/covid.
To be clear, we respect the Travis County Order requiring masks and highly encourage masks for all students, staff and visitors to our campuses. However, when read carefully, the mask mandate is problematic. Its method of enforcement relies solely on individual self-regulation. Therefore, in Eanes ISD we will highly encourage masks, desire masks and per the Travis County Order, we will mandate masks; however that same County Order states in essence, that we have no legal methods to enforce the wearing of masks. We will not make our staff the “mask police” with no authority to enforce the rule.
Our principals report the vast majority of the students and staff inside our buildings, especially at the elementary level, are wearing masks. Mandate or no mandate, law or no law, governor or no governor, county judge or no county judge, superintendent or no superintendent - children and adults in our schools are doing what they believe is best for themselves and our community. That said, parents should understand some students and staff - hopefully very few, particularly in elementary schools - may not be in masks. We will encourage and highly recommend masks, but we cannot apply consequences for non-compliance.
Please understand, we want our schools to be safe. All staff should treat students, parents and each other with respect. School starts tomorrow. Let’s make this as joyful a time as we can for students, parents and staff. We are all in this pandemic together. If adults choose to disagree and fight among themselves (as my mother often advised my brother and me when we fought) please take it outside, off our campuses and out of our schools.
I am asking as kindly as I can: please treat each other the way you would like to be treated. During this difficult time, let’s provide a respectful oasis on our buses, in our schools and on our campuses. The children are watching and learning how we behave, so let’s make the time our students spend in school a joyful and positive experience.
It is time to start school. Let’s stay safe, let’s stay calm, and let’s roll.
Dr. Tom Leonard
Superintendent of Schools
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