'HISD continues to employ its mitigation framework' despite calls to end mask mandate

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Parents who want to see Houston ISD repeal its face mask mandate gathered at a board meeting Thursday night, demanding change.

District leaders approved the mandate at the start of the school year, but now, some parents hope encouraging COVID-19 numbers will help their cause.

The push to end the HISD mask mandate is coming as other districts across the county are starting to end theirs.

Superintendent Millard House II said Thursday night, if the current trends continue and data shows conditions are improving greatly we will reassess our COVID-19 protocols on March 11. And when school resumes on March 21 a scenario exists where masks will be optional as a possibility but strongly encouraged.

Places like Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon plan to lift their school mask mandates by the end of March.

Lauren Droubi is part of a group of West U Elementary parents who plan to protest the mask mandate during a school walk-out Friday, Feb. 18th.

"Masks are one issue, but it is something that they could easily go to mask optional now," Droubi said. "Let's get these kids caught up and let's not dig in on a failed policy. At this point, you're looking around at other school districts (and) they've been mask optional this entire year. There's no excuse for it at this point."

Meanwhile, Houston ISD parent Traci Riley said she is in support of the district's mask mandate for those who are vulnerable and to encourage education on the benefits of high-grade masks.

"I think COVID is what has been traumatic for our kids and our staff, and we've had such loss in our world," Riley said. "Our students have needed support and so the masks have taken away a little bit I think of the dialogue of the trauma that our students have faced. I think it's unfair to say just removing this mask mandate will make things go back to normal. We still have a lot of healing to do as a community and especially our little ones."

HISD said they believe the masks have been key in helping to keep staff and students healthy, claiming their positivity rate is one of the lowest in the state.

With some districts dropping the masks, it contradicts CDC guidance, which states that everyone should be masking up in schools, because COVID cases are too high. It's a message Houston's health authority, Dr. David Persse, echoed to ABC13 earlier this week.

"At some point I could see where the viral activity in the community, perhaps ours, gets low enough that it's OK for us to shed the masks," Dr. Persse said, "But, we'll have to be willing to put them on again should things go in a bad direction."

These mixed messages can really put parents in a difficult place in making a decision for their child.

"What we really need is we need really need good criteria, whereby which local agencies can actually make those decisions because, otherwise, you have individual parents trying to gauge whether or not they should listen to the CDC or whether or not they should listen to their school board," Dr. Ali Raja said. "And that's a really tough decision to make."

House previously issued the following statement Wednesday:

"The health and safety of our students continues to be our guiding compass in all our decisions. The threat of COVID-19 in our communities is still high, but we see that countywide data is trending in the right direction, including a steady decrease in new cases reported, which is consistent with trends observed in other places. As a result, Houston Independent School District is updating its COVID-19 contact tracing practices.

Moving forward, everyone in the classroom, in an activity, or in a program of a confirmed positive case or presumed positive case, will be notified and advised to monitor for symptoms and test when applicable. Parents will continue to receive notifications whenever a child is in a class with a COVID-positive individual.

As it stands Thursday, HISD continues to employ its mitigation framework which includes mandatory masking, a robust testing program on campuses, and partnering with local health departments to offer vaccinations. Our mitigation efforts have kept HISD's positivity rate among the lowest in the state and we remain committed to implementing sound protocols for safe in-person learning. If the current trends continue, and no new variant emerges, the district will revisit some of its COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including our mask mandate, in the near future."


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