KRUM — School board members, in a split vote Wednesday evening, voted to make mask-wearing optional across Krum ISD.
Board members simultaneously cut the district’s contact tracing and quarantining protocols.
Nearby Denton and Argyle ISDs recently opted to keep mask policies in place through the end of the school year. Sanger ISD announced on March 5 it would keep its mask policy in tact through the end of the semester.
The issue ate up the majority of the Krum board’s public time Wednesday evening, and it came down to a 4-2 vote with members Phil Enis and Terry Knight the sole opposition.
Board President Eric Borchardt did not vote.
Taylor Poston, a Krum ISD spokesperson, said Borchardt often doesn’t vote unless there is a tie.
Denton County Public Health Director Matt Richardson told Denton ISD board members during their Tuesday meeting that coronavirus transmission had declined from its peak, “but we have not seen the continued downturn in cases that we would like to see.”
He said the continued increase in new pandemic infections and deaths, as well as the danger from virus variants spreading across the country, meant school boards should keep existing pandemic policies through at least the end of the school year.
Krum school board member Sue Real abruptly moved for a vote with the wording “I move that we make the mask a choice” while board members were discussing graduation in the larger mask policy discussion.
She declined to amend the motion of Borchardt’s suggestion to allow teachers the ability to have students wear masks when within six feet of them.
At the suggestion of interim Superintendent Mike Davis, Real eventually amended to motion to the following: “Masks should be optional and independently chosen and that, if the motion passes, that would also include that we no longer quarantine or contact trace students or cases.”
Real, Brad Andrus, Brooke Fouts and Cody Carter all voted in favor of the motion.
Andrus seemed close to voting against the motion until the final vote came.
“I’m less concerned about an increase in cases and more concerned about the division” that mask choice would create, he said.
He cited the possibility of students bullying one another based upon whether or not they were wearing masks.
Andrus also asked Davis twice to clarify students could move to online learning for the final weeks of the school year if they or their parents are uncomfortable with the board’s vote.
“Well, they could,” Davis said. “Do we recommend that? No.”
He cited upcoming tests, such as the end-of-course exams, as reasons students should stay in the classroom.
Speaking before the vote, Davis said the district had redone its survey of teachers to see where they stood on the issue. The previous survey was thrown out after it received more responses than the district had employees, indicating some participants stating their positions multiple times.
The new survey, which had a 76% response rate, showed 57% of teachers were in favor of keeping the district’s mask policy. Davis said that percentage varied drastically from campus to campus.
Davis made clear he and other administrators were comfortable with removing masking, quarantining and contact tracing policies, but he was willing to put up with masking through the end of the year if that was what board members wanted.
“I told you this last time,” he said. “I could stand on my head for six more weeks.”
He had altered his position since the board’s March meeting when he argued mask-wearing would be fine through the end of the year if it meant fewer infections and fewer quarantined students.
Speaking Wednesday, he said the county’s declining infection rate, coupled with the fact that about 65% of Krum ISD employees had been vaccinated, had changed his mind.
He said roughly 35% of staffers had indicated they didn’t intend to receive the vaccine.
Knight, one of two dissenters, said his wife’s role as a school nurse impacted his decision.
“We only have six more weeks left, and I think we need to continue with what we’re doing now,” he said.