Highland Park ISD parents look forward to the day when their students can return to a familiar learning environment, a day many thought to be inching closer with the COVID-19 guideline changes from Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency.
Abbott’s Executive Order GA-34 lifted the mask mandate and cleared indoor activity to return to 100% capacity. The TEA issued its updated guidelines shortly after on March 3, announcing that masks did not need to be worn if social distancing was possible and that the proper social distancing length is now 3 feet in accordance with updated CDC guidance.
Those updated policies have not made it into HPISD however, according to Aimee Urista, a parent of a University Park Elementary School first-grader. Despite the TEA permitting children younger than 10 years old to stop wearing a mask, HPISD continues to enforce that requirement, Urista says.
“In my opinion, I feel that masking kiddos – especially under 10 – is wrong and harming my child in many different ways,” Urista said. “[My child’s] social and emotional development, which is a developmental milestone for his age group, is being stunted.”
The mother says her first-grader is having a hard time connecting socially to his peers because of the mask he must wear seven hours a day, five days a week. She likened this HPISD requirement to “Child abuse 101.”
“His ability to connect to his teacher while in school is lost,” she said. “His entire learning environment is lost due to the mask. And to top it off, my son will not be able to get this year back.”
Urista says she has pressed the HPISD administration to find out when the mask mandate will end and has never received an answer.
“That worries me,” she said. “We all know kids are not the source of COVID; they are not transmitting it to adults. I have asked for any scientific studies to show otherwise, and not one board member or superintendent can provide me with one.”
HPISD Chief of Staff Jon Dahlander said the district’s expectations regarding masks have been in place since last summer’s comprehensive reopening plan.
“The final version of the document has been available on our website since then and can be found here,” Dahlander said. “The district is following TEA guidelines.”
Dahlander added that HPISD has received feedback from parents both in favor and opposed to the mask policy.
Urista says the district has done nothing to gather opinions or poll parents on the issue, and has only asked for the opinion of teachers and staff despite allegedly saying in the last board meeting that “the kids are their top priority.”
“Why not ask the parents of the children that attend school if that truly is their top priority?” Urista said. “Please get the masks off our children. Let people have a choice if they want to wear masks or not wear a mask. Let our children have their freedoms back and be children. This virus is not going to stop being a virus so our children should not have to stop being children. Let them see each other’s faces, smiles, hug, touch, play tag and be kids!”