FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas -- The Fort Bend ISD board of trustees voted 6-0 to rescind its previously issued mask mandate, leaving masks optional in district schools and facilities during its Nov. 15 meeting. Trustee Denetta Williams did not vote on the motion.
In a 4-3 vote on Aug. 23, FBISD trustees issued a mask mandate that contained language stating the mandate would be in place so long as such mandates were legal. A few days later, the district said the mandate would no longer be enforced due to the legality Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning such mandates.
However, on Nov. 10, a federal judge overturned Abbott's executive order-saying it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act-allowing school districts to re-enforce their mask mandates.
"The board of trustees needs to provide guidance regarding whether it should begin implementation of our mask mandate previously approved or if it wishes to discontinue this mandate," Board President Dave Rosenthal said.
Rosenthal said since the board first implemented its mask mandate COVID-19 infection rates have improved, and vaccines for children ages 5 and up have been approved.
During public comment, 12 people spoke in favor of keeping masks optional, saying the decision should be left up to individual families-a sentiment Trustee Kristen Davison Malone agreed with.
"As a board member myself, I too can only support in trusting families like you to make decisions and to critically think what is in the best interest for you and for your medical situation," Malone said.
An additional four speakers advocated in favor of reinstating the mask mandate. Supporters of the mask mandate said children have not yet had time to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and that the district should not ease up on preventive measures despite a decline in COVID-19 cases.
As of Nov. 15, FBISD has 90 active COVID-19 cases among students and staff, according to the district's dashboard. And, on Nov. 12, Fort Bend County decreased its COVID-19 risk level from orange to yellow because the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to decline.
Trustee Angie Hanan, who supported the district's original mask mandate, said she hopes if the number of COVID-19 cases increases, the district will seek the advice of local health authorities.
"I do appreciate that Fort Bend ISD tried to curb the spread at the beginning of the year the best way we knew how, with what was at our disposal, by making the stand that we highly recommend masks when we could not enforce that," Hanan said. "And, I do appreciate that the district continues to provide knowledge to our community about vaccination sites."
Trustee Judy Dae said she based her vote on COVID-19 data and what she felt was best for students in the district. Additionally, she called on Superintendent Christie Whitbeck and district leadership to find creative ways to continue to support teachers during this challenging year.
"I think it's time to move forward and put this mask issue behind us," Dae said.