By Matt Kyle | Personal editor
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit Monday against several school districts in the Waco area for challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask warrants.
The Waco, Midway, McGregor and La Vega school districts were included in the lawsuit. In May, Abbott issued an executive order banning government entities, including school districts, from wearing mandatory masks. Many Texas school districts have defied this order and issued mask warrants, citing the need to keep their students healthy.
Demand comes amid a high number of COVID-19 cases in children and adolescents in McLennan County, with 41% of new cases Tuesday in the demographic of 19 years and under. According to Waco’s COVID-19 board, the total number of new cases for seven days is higher in the county than ever during the pandemic.
Kelly Craine, head of public information for the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, said the high number of cases can be attributed to children under the age of 12 who cannot be vaccinated and the low vaccination rate in the United States. McLennan County for the Eligible. He said that to stop the spread of COVID-19, anyone who could be vaccinated should do so and masks should continue to be used.
“COVID-19 is a preventable disease and to stop COVID, you need to get vaccinated,” Craine said. “For the entire population aged 12 and over, we are only 47% vaccinated. More than half of our population is not vaccinated. That is why we are seeing this broadcast right now. “
According to Waco’s COVID-19 panel, 89% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are not vaccinated.
Waco ISD spokesman Josh Wucher said by email that the district only encouraged masks earlier this year, but as cases escalated rapidly, Waco ISD superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon took the decision to require masks on all buildings in the district.
Wucher said the response to the mask’s mandate has been “overwhelmingly positive.” He said parents and staff have been supportive even after the Attorney General’s demand and that no one spoke out against the mandate when the school board reaffirmed it last week. Wucher also noted that the number of reported cases has decreased since the mask requirement was established.
In addition to requiring masks, Wucher said Waco ISD has modified facilities to allow for distancing, required frequent hand washing and disinfection, increased ventilation, and encouraged eligible employees and students to get vaccinated.
Wucher said students also have online access to their homework and class assignments if they have to isolate or quarantine them.
Traci Marlin, a spokeswoman for the Midway ISD, said the district does not require masks; rather, it recommends them for students and teachers. He said the district has tried several times to contact the attorney general’s office to remove him from the list of warrants.
Marlin said the district had implemented a “mask directive” at River Valley Intermediate School because of a large number of cases, but that the directive was not a mandate. He also said the number of cases in River Valley decreased after the directive.
In addition to favoring masks, Midway ISD has also required frequent disinfection of high-contact areas and has made hand sanitizers available in classrooms. The district also has a situational matrix of how the district will respond to the current situation of COVID-19, with contingencies to temporarily close schools if the cases reach a sufficiently high number. The district has online options for distance learning and has provided iPads for students to attend class online.
Felicity Jortner, a student at Midway High School, said that while her school strongly suggests masks, there are actually very few who wear masks.
“Each of my classes, which has between 15 and 20 students, I would say I only see two [students] with masks on average, ”Jortner said.
Jortner also said his school had more restrictive COVID-19 protocols in terms of social distancing last year, but that it has relaxed many rules this year. He said his teachers mostly wear masks and try to keep students as far apart as possible, but it is difficult to apply.
Emma McNulty, a Baylor graduate student in Los Angeles and a teacher at Midway Middle School, also said very few students wear masks in the classroom. He estimated that about a third of his students wore masks and expressed concern about the health of the students.
“Especially right now with the flu season, I think student health should be a priority,” McNulty said. “We really need to protect students.”
McNulty also said that learning in the classroom should be prioritized. While students have online options for attending school while they have to isolate or be quarantined, he said learning through Zooming can be detrimental to students and that teachers have expressed concern. for students to be left behind due to difficulties in learning online.
According to the district’s COVID-19 board, Midway ISD currently reports 107 active cases among students and faculty, while Waco ISD reports 50 active cases for each board.