Opinion: WISD vs. your constitutional rights

The term has been used time and time again as we have powered through the last year of COVID19 driven lockdowns, mandates and restrictions, and here we go again – “The goal post is being moved, yet again.”. This time it is in regards to the action, or rather inaction, taken by the Wimberley Independent School District on Monday evening.

The WISD School Board had their regular meeting and were to also address the issue of masking requirements for children, staff, and all visitors.

Since the return to school, the district has maintained a mask policy, specifically for those over the age of 10, requiring the use of masks and strict enforcement of proper mask wearing in WISD buildings.

This was much to the disappointment of many parents in the district who feel this is a detriment to their children’s health and abilities to focus and learn in their classroom settings. 

Some will say these parents have the right to choose to keep their children home for the distance learning that is available but is this the right attitude to take in a country where freedom is valued? When do one’s rights supersede another’s? When is one’s choice more important than another’s?

Governor Greg Abbott, via Executive Order GA-34, lifted the mask mandate, opening businesses and facilities back to 100% occupancy, and rescinded most of the prior Executive Orders that had been placed on the state.  Governor Abbott stated, “With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,”, and continued on to say, “Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”.

He explained the reduction in hospitalizations due to COVID19, the surplus of PPE (personal protective equipment), an abundance of COVID19 tests available, advanced treatments and vaccines as his reasoning to reopen Texas and lift the harsh restrictions, to include masking, that has been plaguing many in our state. 

If, by his own words, this is to ensure Texas families, as well as businesses, the ability “have the freedom to determine their own destiny”, then why is there still such an impediment of such freedoms in some districts, including WISD, for their students and parents/ guardians?

Why is their right to the freedom to choose whether to wear a mask or not being denied? 

It can be claimed that TEA (Texas Education Agency) requires it, but if you read their requirements carefully (and they may be somewhat outdated even), they acknowledge the limited risk of COVID 19 on children – from their Public Health Guidance for School Year 2020-2021: “That said, research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), among others, has found that while children do get infected by COVID-19 and some severe outcomes have been reported in children, relatively few children with COVID-19 are hospitalized or have severe symptoms. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that COVID-19 risks must be balanced with the need for children to attend school in person, given that lack of physical access to school leads to a number of negative consequences, placing “children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity, and in some case, mortality.” 

The TEA goes on to state in the same publication, “The above mask-wearing requirements do not apply to any school system that was exempted from the face covering requirements of Executive Order GA-29 during its effect due to a county judge attestation filed with the Texas Division of Emergency Management.” And “The governing board of a school system may modify or eliminate by formal action the above mask-related requirements.”.

This is where it has to be reminded the mask order under GA-29 has been lifted and the current TSA (Trauma Service Area) Area O, which includes Hays County, COVID19 hospitalization rate is approximately 7.85%. This is well under the 15% or greater needed, per Governor Abbott’s GA-32 Executive Order, to require restrictions to be imposed. 

With all of this being said, and with the wishes expressed outside of the WISD School Board meeting last night, would it not be so prudent to assume that the district could loosen their restrictions on the masks?

One might think so, as several other districts across the state have, including the Johnson City School District, but instead, the board members opted to double down and now impose sanctions on the students who do not choose to wear a mask.

Per an email sent out by the district overnight, “non-compliance results in a violation of Level 1 of the Student Code of Conduct, and the student will be assigned to In-School Suspension (ISS) for the remainder of the school day for synchronous learning.

For grades 6-12 three ISS referrals may result in the student’s placement in the alternative education program (AEP).”.

Once upon a time, education included the teaching of constitutional rights, now constitutional rights seem to be under attack by some school districts, and students and parents are fed up and are attempting to make their voices heard by, what appeared last night to have been deaf ears.

Are we facing a crisis of fear of a virus or are we facing a fear of rights and freedoms being stolen?

Angie Pereira
Hays County Resident

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