‘The joke’s on us’: Highland Park ISD student kicked out each day over masking policies

A Highland Park ISD student says he has been kicked out of school daily since the governor’s executive order ending statewide mask mandates went into effect.

Andrew Siino said that before Gov. Greg Abbott’s order ending most mask mandates, enforcement of mask-wearing at his school had been getting less stringent.

“As soon as Democrats such as Joe Biden, who called it ‘Neanderthal thinking’ and Beto O’Rourke, who said it was a ‘death warrant’ for the state of Texas, (spoke out) many teachers and administrators instantly became extremely strict,” Siino said in an interview with Dallas Express. “That told me this was political. I will not be a pawn in anyone’s political game.”

Siino said the mask requirement has impacted his education.

“I personally find it difficult to breathe and feel suffocated,” Siino said. “More than that, it’s just frustrating because it feels like the joke’s on us. When we’re not in school where most desks are at least 6 feet apart, we all go to restaurants without a mask and sit elbow to elbow. Most of the teachers take off their mask as soon as they sit down at their desks, but yell at us if ours slip below our noses.”

Siino said he has been kicked out of school every day since the executive order went into effect on March 10.

“I get sent to the principal’s office where staffers have told me to ‘get with the program’ and called me a ‘punk,'” Siino said. “They usually make me wait alone in the nurse’s office for my parents to pick me up. On the day of the STARR test, which the State of Texas requires to be taken in person, one of the vice principals told me that if I don’t put a mask on and take the test, I wouldn’t graduate.”

Siino said last week he was to take a test during his first period and the principal physically blocked him from entering the room and had him escorted out of the building by the police.

“I think they should make masks optional, but they should at least let us take them off when we’re seated at our desks, where we’re more spaced than any restaurant in Dallas,” Siino said.

Emily Lewin, a parent of another student in the district, said her child has also experienced maltreatment because of masking policies.

“Teachers/staff are constantly yelling (at my student) to put the masks on. He said they threaten to send him to the office if he doesn’t wear a mask or wear it properly,” Lewin said in an interview with Dallas Express. “He has been pulled out of class by an aide and threatened to send him to office if he saw him one more time without a mask.”

Lewin said the masking policy is impacting her child’s education.

“He has suffered from migraines since he was little and the constant mask wearing was causing daily migraines, to the point he would come home from school in pain and sleep until the next day,” Lewin said. “We decided to pull him out from in person and he went online. He is a straight-A student and loves school. After going online, his grades began to suffer, and we could tell he was becoming very down since he was not getting the socialization that he needed with his peers.”

Lewin said they sent him back thinking when the mask mandate was lifted, there wouldn’t be masks required in school. She said on her son’s first day back he was yelled at by a teacher.

“The second day back, he was upset and didn’t want to get out of the car. He had anxiety because he knew when forced to wear a mask all day, he would get a migraine,” Lewin said.

Lewin said her son was put in an isolation room after that first day and teachers rarely checked on him. She said if the schools continue with their masking policies, they will lose a lot of students.

“Even their own TEA guidelines and bylaws states that a child can not be masked, or anything be put over their nose and mouth,” Lewin said. “The school board, principals, staff do not listen to any parent that voices their concern.”

Lewin said the masking needs to be the choice of the child and the child’s parents.

“You do not mask healthy kids,” Lewin said. “There have been tons of kids that have missed school from being contract traced and tested positive, though they were never sick. This whole thing is insane, and I can’t believe these people are the ones that are supposed to be teaching our kids.  Zero common sense in anyone that wants to continue this masking.”

Highland Park ISD’s COVID-19 policies are more stringent than the Texas Education Agency’s policies — going as far as requiring face masks for children even in pre-kindergarten. After the state’s mask mandate was lifted last month, the school chose to keep its policies in place.

“We received emails from several parents who were very pleased that the district is continuing to follow the safety protocols put in place at the beginning of the school year,”  Jon Dahlander, chief of staff and director of communications for Highland Park ISD, told the Dallas Express. “Some said that the protocols, including requiring facial coverings for both students and staff, were the reason why they felt safe sending their children to school. At the same time, we received several emails from parents who would like for their children not to have to continue to wear masks.”

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