It should come as no surprise that after the first two days of Denton ISD’s newly implemented mask requirement, parents remain divided on the policy. Several of them — some in favor and some in opposition — shared their thoughts after school let out for the weekend.
Denton ISD’s requirement started Thursday and requires students, employees and visitors to wear face coverings indoors when social distancing isn’t possible. That includes classrooms, hallways, offices, libraries and buses. In a letter sent out following the Aug. 24 board meeting, Superintendent Jamie Wilson wrote the requirement is temporary and will remain in place “until local hospitalization access and community spread of COVID-19 slows.”
By Friday afternoon’s Denton County Public Health reporting, the local coronavirus situation had showed no signs of slowing down. The department estimated the county now has over 10,000 active cases of the virus, while hospitals — an increasingly dire concern for health officials — reported a total of three intensive care unit beds available.
Denton ISD itself, through 12 in-person school days, has reported 427 cases of coronavirus in students and 67 cases in staff. Notably, about three-quarters of that caseload came in the most recent school week, for which the district reported 309 student cases and 43 staff cases.
Although only implemented for two school days so far, Denton ISD’s mask policy has been an explosive topic locally for even longer than that. Among the chief arguments for supporters have been that masks can help stem the tide of cases and protect both students and staff, while those opposed to the mandate suggest masks don’t help or are making it difficult to have a normal school year.
Jennifer Forester, a parent with a sophomore at Ryan High School and a kindergartner in the district’s K-8 Virtual Academy, said her family has been very cautious about the pandemic, working from home when possible and limiting exposure. She said her high schooler, Morgan, has masked from the beginning, and that while the requirement has helped, she thinks the district could do more from an enforcement perspective.
“At the beginning it was maybe 50-50, and from what I understand there’s some more people wearing masks but there’s still people going unmasked,” Forester said. “It’s not much different than before, but it is different from before and something is better than nothing. It’s still not what it could be.”
Forester said she’d be in favor of more active enforcement, including possibly sending students home who don’t comply with the requirement.
“I think some form of enforcement would make it better, like saying you have to comply or you get sent home, like if you get a dress code infraction,” Forester said. “I hate it because I know there are some people who need school to be open for child care, but those people are choosing to send their child to school without a mask and a lot of them are telling their kids to actively defy the policy.”
Wendy Kizer, whose daughter attends Newton Rayzor Elementary School, wrote that she wants her daughter to make her own decision on masks and be independent. Under the new policy, she’s been told to wear one by school staff, though Kizer said she doesn’t want to due to allergies.
“As a parent, it deeply concerns me to see my child’s confusion when I have told her she will not be in trouble if she does/doesn’t wear a mask,” Kizer stated. “My authority as her parent has been a joke. … It makes me sad that only some children’s voices are deemed important, but if my child asks to be maskless, it’s a no.”
Many parents expressed frustration that the district’s enforcement strategy seems to vary from campus to campus, and even between teachers. Despite multiple phone calls and emails to a Denton ISD community relations employee Thursday and Friday, the district did not comment on how administration of the mask policy went in its first days. The employee said “information” would be shared by Friday afternoon, including statements from Assistant Superintendent Susannah O’Bara, though only the weekly COVID-19 case reporting was sent.
Marian Rothlisberger, a speech language pathologist at an Aubrey elementary school, said her kindergartener at Nette Shultz Elementary has had a positive experience with the policy. In her own experience as an educator, she believes most of the anxiety around mask-wearing comes from adults rather than children.
“I feel like they had a good system ready to go,” Rothlisberger said. “The principal and some other staff were right there with reusable masks handing them out and helping kids get them put on. … I think the stigma comes from the parents — it really doesn’t exist for the kids.”