AUSTIN (KXAN) — Eanes Independent School District said the first days of the new school year have brought some “magical” moments as the community comes back together — but ongoing turmoil over mask requirements to slow the spread of COVID-19 continues to boil.
Eanes ISD reports one of its teachers was physically assaulted by a parent recently, while another was verbally assaulted by parents.
The district says a masked teacher had her face covering ripped off by a parent on Monday. Meanwhile, a masked teacher who was speaking to several parents was yelled at because they said they couldn’t hear her through it. In a letter to the community on Tuesday, Eanes ISD Superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard wrote:
“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.”
Superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard
Recently, Eanes ISD released its own mask mandate for the new school year, despite Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order banning requirements in public schools. However, the district says it’s following current Travis County orders allowing mask requirements and will continue to until a higher court overturns the decision.
In an interview with KXAN, Leonard said his teachers would not be the “mask police.” He explained that they feel the county’s order doesn’t given them many tools to enforce compliance on masking.
“We are going to encourage masks, but I am going to respect them either way,” he said.
Still, he said he demands the same respect from families.
“My staff members need to be treated with respect. Period,” he said. “Keep it off our school grounds and keep it out of our classrooms. The kids are watching. They are watching the adults. Let’s respect each other as adults. We can at least agree on that. I hope we can at least agree on that.”
Leonard said the teacher who had her mask ripped off was not injured, but staff have reported the incident was “upsetting” to the teacher and “she felt scared.” He explained they could have pressed criminal charges over this incident, but after having a follow-up meeting with the parent in question, none have been filed yet.
The district said it would not comment on the school where the incident happened, other than confirming it was an elementary school.
The incident was enough to push Ryan Clinton and his wife to decide to pull their rising first-grader out of Eanes ISD, in search of a virtual education option.
“We moved to this house to be in Eanes ISD. We’ve been here for 6 years so that we could put our son, and our daughters eventually, in Eanes ISD. We are public school parents. I went to public schools, my wife went to public schools. My wife is a public school teacher,” he said. “Tragically — it goes against our own belief — but we are going to have to take our kids out of it for now.”
As an attorney, he fears the Governor’s order prohibiting mask mandates will prevail, and he worries about his son’s health if it does.
“We felt like our hands were tied,” he said.
Clinton said he feels for parents who are concerned, but who might not have other options.
Meanwhile, on the eve of classes beginning, other parents rallied outside Westlake High School and the Eanes administration building, calling for families’ personal decisions on masks to be respected.
“Some of those things need to start in the home and not be taught by the district without the parents,” said Jennifer Stevens, with the group Eanes Kids First.
They held signs reading “No Forced Masking” and “My Kid, My Choice.”
Stevens explained, “If you feel like, as a parent, your child is better suited to be in a mask, you should do that. If you feel like, as a parent, you child doesn’t need the mask and maybe there’s a circumstance that that’s not a decision you want to make, then you shouldn’t have to make that decision. We’re about parental rights.
She said they have asked the superintendent for more details on the assault on the Eanes ISD teacher.
“Violence of any kind any time is unacceptable, so we need to understand what happened. We need to make sure the district gets a full picture, and then it can’t happen. We’ve got to love and support our teachers always,” she said.
Over the past two weeks, a historic tug-of-war between Texas school districts and Abbott has ensued, as more and more children become affected by the highly contagious delta variant.
Experts report the delta variant is more aggressive with children than previous strains — and children younger than 12 are still not eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Eanes is just one Austin district struggling to keep children masked, while working to appease parents and lawmakers who say it should be a personal decision. On Sunday, Austin Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde penned a plea in TIME Magazine: urging Texans and Abbott to allow masking in public schools.
In the piece, titled “Why I’m Mandating That Austin Schools Must Be Masked When Classes Start,” she said that the move is not a political statement, but is purely about the safety of the nearly 75,000 students returning for classes in-person.
“What if a child dies on my watch? How do I say to you, “I’m really sorry. We did everything we could except for masking because the governor’s executive order prohibited me from doing so.” What does that do for a parent? How does that bring them comfort or solace?” Elizalde wrote.
Several other big Texas districts that will require masks in the new school year — at least for now — include Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Houston ISDs.