Despite disapproval from parents, Birdville ISD ends mask mandate for younger students

Many North Texas school districts chose to keep their mask policies after the Texas Education Agency gave school boards the authority to make their own choices.

Birdville ISD in Tarrant County is one of the districts relaxing its mask policy. The decision has some parents concerned.

As school boards wrestle with their new choice about masks, experts say there are still too many teachers and people with high-risk conditions who have not yet had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.

The mask debate has divided the Birdville ISD school board and the community.

76% of the parent comments to the school board were in favor of keeping the district's mask policy.

Even so, the board narrowly voted to allow pre-K through third graders to remove their masks in class and on the playground.

The debate is a calculation about risks.

"We’re scared for teachers and kids and their safety," said BISD Trustee Kelvin Dilks. "If we lost one kid because of ending masks, would it be worth it?"

"Everyone is worried about one life. If we are worried about one life, we will outlaw balloons because lives were lost from balloons," said BISD Trustee Jack McCarty. "If someone has serious health concerns, they should be online. This is no time to take those risks."

But Brandon Safford, who is immunocompromised due to multiple sclerosis, says virtual school is not an option for every family.

"That's fine for people who don't have to worry about who will keep stewardship of kids during the day," he said. "People who don't have both parents working, don't have special needs kids and don't have immunocompromised parents."

Safford's second grader is dyslexic and has ADD.

"We've worked years to get him the help he needs. Pulling him and remote learning is not an option if we want him to function well in society," he said.

Safford has not yet been able to get a vaccine in Tarrant County.

Dr. John Carlo is with the Texas Medical Association and on the Texas COVID-19 Task Force.

"Anytime letting a virus go uncontrolled provides an opportunity for it to change into variants," he said.

Birdville ISD points to the TEA, which says masks are still required for older students but not for those under age 10.

CDC guidelines don't have specific age breakdowns but describe categories of risk that increase with less consistent mask use.

Carlo says the data is not yet clear as to what degree asymptomatic students can spread the virus.

"It’s hard for kids to stay in masks. But I do feel like if we’re not careful in the last period, we will take steps back."

Dallas, Richardson, and Garland ISDs have announced their mask policies will remain the same.