Denton ISD will begin requiring those indoors at district facilities to wear face coverings when social distancing isn’t possible.
The measure applies to students, employees and visitors.
Superintendent Jamie Wilson recommended the change during Tuesday night’s regular school board meeting.
He sent a formal announcement to parents about the change via email after 8:30 p.m. while the board meeting continued.
Wilson’s request came between the first and second of three open forums scheduled for the night’s meeting.
Several board members quickly voiced their support for the proposal.
“I’m prepared to administratively require that, starting Thursday, we wear face coverings in all school district facilities where social distancing isn’t possible,” Wilson said.
He requested board members follow his lead after hearing a presentation from Assistant Superintendent Susannah O’Bara that showed a steep increase in the coronavirus infection rate across Denton ISD since the school year began.
Denton ISD reports as of Tuesday showed an average daily infection rate of 10 new infections for the first week of classes, 20 for the second week and 65 for the first two days of the third and current week.
The most infections confirmed in Denton ISD last school year was only 164 for an entire week, O’Bara said.
“I do know that we have parents and kids, some of them spoke tonight on both ends of this spectrum — and this decision and recommendation to you all is that we follow the data of our local schools” and local public health officials, Wilson said.
Board member Jim Alexander, who briefly argued with audience members during a previous meeting over the district’s lack of power to mandate masks, said he supported the measure because conditions had changed.
He based that on Denton ISD General Counsel Deron Robinson’s presentation that explained the district is currently covered by temporary legal injunctions that allow it to mandate mask-wearing, at least for now.
Robinson and Wilson were clear the power could change at any moment, but the district will adjust when those changes arise.
Tuesday’s meeting kicked off with a packed meeting room with many community members standing elbow-to-elbow in the back of the room.
Some audience members came with protest signs, but they lowered them after Wilson requested they do so. Murmurs in support of or in opposition to various comments bubbled up, and one repeat offender was briefly escorted out of the meeting by two police officers.
Officers had to escort a few more attendees from the meeting room before the board broke into closed session close to 10:30 p.m.
A total of 33 speakers signed up to speak during open forum segments of Tuesday’s meeting, and nearly all of them took the mic during the third open forum, which kicked off just before 9:15 p.m.
Speakers were frequently cheered or booed by audience members, and the board eventually stopped requesting they stop clapping after each speaker left the mic.
The most uproarious applause came after a speaker, nearly shouting into the mic, declared that he’d done his own research and came to the conclusion that masking doesn’t reduce the spread of the coronavirus responsible for the ongoing pandemic.
That finding is in conflict with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Texas Department of State Health Services and Denton County Public Health, to name a few.
The loudest booing came after a parent told board members that masking in schools is only one tool and that vaccinations are a better solution to the problems presented by the pandemic.
Superintendent Wilson, in a surprise turn, filled out a form to address the school board after the final speaker left the lectern. He stood in front of the board and told those in attendance that he hadn’t made a decision on the masking issue before the night’s board meeting, a point he reiterated in a short interview during a brief recess.
“This decision was made based upon our case counts and our consultation with [local medical experts],” Wilson said.
He made his final appeal to parents by asking them to help the district in this attempt to lower the infection rate across the district.
“We have got to be able to come together around our students and make sure that we get in-person learning to take place,” he said.