Parents in one Texas district ripped off a teacher’s face mask and demanded another educator remove hers, according to the school system’s superintendent.
“The last few days leading to the start of school have been a whirlwind of information and action from governors, attorneys general, judges, mayors, superintendents and even principals,” Eanes Independent School District Superintendent Tom Leonard wrote in a statement Tuesday.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates has faced resistance from municipalities and some school districts in the state. Leonard’s statement came on the same day Abbott’s spokesman announced the governor had tested positive for coronavirus.
“While many may not agree on the particulars (i.e., masks or no masks), we all want students to be safe and we all should treat each other respectfully,” Leonard wrote.
But in the days leading up to the first day of school, which is Wednesday in the Austin district, some parents have been attacking teachers, he said.
“A parent physically assaulted a teacher by ripping a mask off her face, others yelling at a teacher to take off her mask because they could not understand what the teacher was saying while her face was covered,” Leonard wrote. “Our staff are on the front lines of this pandemic; let’s give them some space and grace. Please, I am asking everyone to be kind … do not fight mask wars in our schools.”
Leonard did not disclose the condition of the teacher who was attacked or disciplinary action against the parent accused of assaulting her in his statement.
While Travis County mandates masks in all schools and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all students in kindergarten through 12th grade wear masks, Abbott’s order prevents school districts from mandating masks in schools.
“We have no legal methods to enforce the wearing of masks,” Leonard said. “We will not make our staff the ‘mask police’ with no authority to enforce the rule.”
“To be clear, we respect the Travis County Order requiring masks and highly encourage masks for all students, staff and visitors to our campuses,” Leonard said. “Our hospitals are full at the moment, our medical personnel are under extreme pressure. We are doing our part to help.”
He added that the majority of staff and students, especially in elementary schools, are wearing masks.
“If adults choose to disagree and fight among themselves (as my mother often advised my brother and me when we fought) please take it outside, off our campuses and out of our schools,” Leonard advised parents. “The children are watching and learning how we behave, so let’s make the time our students spend in school a joyful and positive experience.”
The incident in Texas was the latest example of the nationwide debate over school mask mandates reaching a boiling point.
An Amador County, California, parent attacked a teacher following a mask dispute on the first day of school at Sutter Creek Elementary School, officials said.
Angry protests erupted in Franklin, Tennessee, last Tuesday after the Williamson County Board of Education reinstated a mask mandate for elementary school students, with some people yelling at and heckling those wearing masks in the parking lot at a meeting about the measure.
Children have shown more symptoms with the delta variant of the coronavirus than with previous strains, and they have increasingly been hospitalized in recent weeks. Children’s hospitals in states that have high transmission rates have reported bed shortages.
The Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency use authorizations for Covid-19 vaccines for adults and children over age 12, leaving younger children more vulnerable to infection. The FDA said last month that it hopes to offer authorization for children under 12 by early to midwinter.