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Education

San Marcos CISD To Implement Mask Mandate, Defying Governor's Executive Order

The San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District headquarters.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT

San Marcos Consolidated ISD is the latest school district to require masks in schools, defying Gov. Greg Abbott's order against mask mandates.

At a special-called meeting Thursday, the board of trustees voted 6-1 to require students and employees to wear masks in district facilities and buses. Trustee Kathy Hansen cast the lone vote against the mandate

New coronavirus cases have been on the rise in Hays County since mid-July. Hospitals in Central Texas have been urging people to get vaccinated and wear masks as ICUs reach their lowest capacity yet. As of Thursday, there were just eight intensive care unit beds available in the 11-county region that include Hays County. This region, known as Trauma Service Area O, serves 2.4 million residents.

The district joins Austin ISD and Dallas ISD, which made headlines earlier this week by becoming the first districts in Texas to move forward with mask requirements.

School starts in San Marcos CISD Aug. 23.

The district sent out a survey before the meeting Thursday notifying parents of the upcoming vote and asking them for feedback on a potential mask mandate.

A few community members showed up to speak during the meeting's public comments period. One parent said she didn’t want the district to implement a mask mandate because she was concerned about potential financial backlash from the state.

“My questions regarding financial backlash of any kind … need to be answered," she said. "Personally, I feel every parent should know the answers to that before the board jumps on what seems to be a political bandwagon of larger communities in the state against our governor.”

Another parent said her son was starting kindergarten this year and she feared without a mask mandate, he could come home sick.

“I know and understand the rule of law and I support that,” she said through tears. “But I also know that there are times when it becomes important to stand up and do the right thing, and the right thing is to follow the science and to defy this order and require masks in classrooms.”

Julie Fisher, a pediatrician at Corridor Primary Care in San Marcos, encouraged the board to vote in favor of a mandate. She said unlike with the original virus, the delta variant is causing more cases in young people.

“It’s bad,” she said. “It is really bad, and this is the first time we are going to see large-scale outbreaks in schools and daycare settings. And so for the safety of our children, especially those 12 and under who aren’t able to be vaccinated, the best thing to do is to have them wear masks. I know that’s not the popular opinion, but that’s the medical science.”

San Marcos CISD had previously said it would be "strongly encouraging" the use of masks for the upcoming school year. The district also said it won't be providing a virtual learning option. Last school year, San Marcos was one of the first districts in Hays County to transition back to in-person learning, citing the mental health of its students as the main factor.

During the 2019-2020 school year, there were about 8,000 students enrolled in San Marcos CISD compared to more than 80,000 in Austin.

Hays CISD announced this week that it will be "urging" people to wear masks, but maintained it can't require anyone to wear them because of the governor's order. It also announced the district will be limiting large gatherings and reducing capacity at stadiums and athletic venues — reinstating safety protocols used last year.

Correction: This story has been corrected to say Julie Fisher is a pediatrician.

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