Masks in Brownwood ISD will be optional next week

Steve Nash
Brownwood Bulletin
Brownwood ISD

Brownwood school board members voted 5-2 Monday night to make it optional for students and staff to wear masks beginning next week.

Board members approved a motion for masks to be optional beginning Monday, April 19. Brownwood students will not be in school on Monday so the board's action will impact students on Tuesday, April 20. 

Trustees who voted to make masks optional — board president Michael Cloy, Tim Jacobs, Amary Doremus, Codie Smith and Eric Evans — followed superintendent Dr. Joe Young's recommendation to give the district time to prepare for the possibility that some students may choose remote learning if masks are no longer mandated.

Board members also said the district will be ready to reverse the action and go back to requiring masks for students and staff if COVID numbers begin going up. Board members who voted for optional masks noted that COVID numbers are down in the community and urged a return to normal life.

Board members Roderick Jones and Diane Thompson voted against allowing masks to be optional, saying they preferred to see the remaining seven weeks of the school year finish with the mask mandate in place.

In March, school board members voted to keep requiring masks after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded the statewide mandate. School boards in Early, Bangs, Blanket, Zephyr, May and Brookesmith decided in March that masks would be optional in those districts.

Addressing board members Monday night, Young said the school board had made “the absolute correct decision” in March.

“The needle has moved,” Young said, noting that COVID numbers are falling locally and teachers have been made eligible to receive COVID vaccinations.

Before the board voted, Young suggested “giving us a little bit of time” if the board did decide to let masks be optional. Young said there are students with health issues who are in school because the mask mandate has been in place. If the board opted to make masks optional immediately, some of those students with health issues wouldn’t be back in school Tuesday, Young said.

Young noted that the other districts in the county went with masks being optional in March but said the dynamics are different in those districts. “The fact that they were able to turn on a dime, and make it work in one day, kudos to them,” Young said.

He said if the Brownwood district had only one student who decided on virtual learning if masks became optional, “we could be ready tomorrow, depending on the grade level. But when you have 3,600 students, the chances that you’re going to have four, five, six that decide they’re going to make an adjustment … it’s just going to be different. It may take us a few days to get that done.” 

With the exception of board members Jones and Thomas, who wanted masks to remain mandatory through the end of the school year, board members spoke in favor of a phased-in approach.

Jones noted that President Biden “is still staying we still need to wear our masks.”

“I don’t think this thing’s over,” Jones said. “We don’t have but seven more weeks, and I think we should continue the way we are doing it now, with the masks. And I understand heavily that the kids are tired of them.” 

Cloy noted how fast COVID numbers can change, saying “we have to reserve that right to be fluid. I would support making (masks) optional with a time lapse.” 

Cloy said he’ll never forget the day he and Young met with other superintendents at the beginning of COVID, “trying to figure out what we’re going to do about this thing.” 

Cloy, who is a physician’s assistant, noted that “everything I normally see is down right now. Flu is down … for someone to argue to me that masks don’t work, I’ll argue to the death on that because I know they work.”

In America, Cloy said, people have been stigmatized for wearing masks and stigmatized for not wearing masks. “We have to get out of that … that being said, I think we’re ready to move. I think we need to do something. We need to listen to our constituents and I think we also need to get back to normal as best we can — with the reservation to change. This is fluid. It could change tomorrow.”

Earlier in the school board meeting, three parents addressed the board and asked trustees to let masks become optional.

One of the parents — Kaylee Wolf, the mother of an eighth-grader — said she was speaking “as one chosen to represent many, many families that are part of the Brownwood ISD” and had 155 signatures of parents to present to the board.

Wolf said she’d spoken with nurses at districts that lifted the mask mandate in March. “They informed me that there have either been no quarantines due to masks being made optional, or very few quarantined cases due to no masks,” Wolf said.

She noted that “kids aren’t wearing (masks) — at church, the trampoline park, the bowling alley, the skating rink, the baseball games, gymnastics, dance, social events, hanging out together, or really any other time except in some doctors’ offices and at school.

“So it seems pointless to me to put them on just to walk into the door of a school. I’m not saying the masks should be completely done away with. It’s just that I would like for kids to have the option to choose, as the adults now have the ability to do so. As we are all aware, our kids are not the most at-risk. We have been asked to do the masks for the safety of others that are older. The vaccine has been available to the elderly, teachers, and anyone over 18 long enough that anyone who is concerned or at  high risk has the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

Wolf noted that there were three COVID cases in Brown County and no COVID hospitalizations in Brownwood last week. “I do realize we have some kids in our district who are higher risk due to cancer and immune-compromised diseases,” Wolf said. 

“However, from what I understand, our district still has virtual online instruction available for those students. … I have been through many, many, many different masks and face shields. Because my son feels like he can’t breathe with a mask on, he can’t see the board through the shield and can’t even begin to focus on the hard concept of algebra because he’s so concerned with whether his mask is over his nose, under his nose, the face shield fogging up …it’s been a hard year to learn.”

Wolf said she’ previously told her son to “just tough it out because it’s for the greater good of the community and his peers and just wear the mask. But I feel like we have passed that place now.”