Mask mandates and closures: Local school districts make changes to combat COVID-19 surge

Several school districts are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks and some are making changes in a bid to keep infection numbers low.

Richardson ISD reissues mask mandate

Richardson ISD is once again requiring face masks on its campuses. The district said it’s necessary because of an unprecedented rise in cases.

The district re-instated its requirement Friday after seeing a new pandemic high of 1,089 cases -- nearly three times the previous record of 367 cases set back in September. 

There were mixed reactions from parents and students.

"I just like it without the mask," said Wyatt Lessman, fourth grader.

"I was like no, I don’t want the mask," said Jude Miles, fourth grader.

But some parents told FOX4 they understand the quick reversal. 

"I want the kids to be in school," said Nicole Henry, mother. "If that is what it takes to keep them in school, I support that."

"My daughter is a cancer survivor, we always err on the side of caution," said Whitney Teague, mom.

"I don’t like wearing masks, but I would rather be safe than sick at home. I enjoy seeing my friends even though I still have to wear my masks because I did not like virtual," said Tatum Teague, cancer survivor and fourth grader.

A school board meeting on Monday night also featured mixed reactions from parents, with one calling the mandate "literally useless" while another said "thank you" for bringing masks back.

District administrators said they will reevaluate the mask mandate at the end of the month.

A spokesman said no one with the district could talk FOX4 on-camera on Monday because, "Our team has been hit pretty hard by illness and quarantine..."

Richardson ISD is also offering testing at Lake Highlands High School for students who have been exposed to the virus but are asymptomatic. The district wants anyone who has symptoms should stay home and not come to school for any reason.

RELATED: TEA updates COVID-19 quarantine guidelines for school staff

Rio Vista ISD cancels classes

In Rio Vista ISD, south of Fort Worth, school is canceled for two days because too many staff members are out sick and the district does not have enough substitutes.

Monday and Tuesday will be considered student holidays and will not need to be made up.

The district said it will use the time to sanitize buildings.

Drive-thru COVID-19 testing will be offered for students and staff at Rio Vista Middle School on Tuesday from 1-4 p.m.

Lancaster ISD resumes in-person learning

Students in Lancaster ISD will be back for in-person learning on Monday after starting the semester off virtually. They are required to wear masks.

The district said while students were out last week, campus buildings were sanitized and restocked with personal protective equipment like hand sanitizer and masks.

Lancaster ISD was the only North Texas school district to start remotely after the winter break.

RELATED: Lancaster ISD to start spring semester with virtual learning due to omicron variant

Garland ISD limits testing to students & staff

Garland ISD is also offering free drive-thru testing but it’s only for students and staff because of the limited supply. Previously family members could also get tested.

The testing site is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Jill Shugart Professional Development Center.

Dallas ISD reduces isolation days to 5

There are changes to Dallas ISD's COVID-19 protocols. On Monday, the district announced it was reducing its number of isolation days.

Dallas ISD told the Dallas City Council it is reducing the number of days for infected students and staff from 10 to five to align with the Centers for Disease Control's guidelines issued last month.

The CDC said those who are infected can leave isolation after five days if their condition improves and they are without a fever. Vaccinated teachers and mask-wearing students also don't have to quarantine at all after an exposure, unless they test positive. DISD says the keeping kids in school is a high priority.

Fall test results continue to show learning losses from virtual school. 

"We saw it impact all grade levels losing 4-5 years of academic gains," said Sherry Christian, Deputy Chief of Staff, Dallas ISD.

Dallas ISD also said it is using administrative employee as substitute teachers to help deal with staffing shortages. An average of 200 of its 10,000 teachers were out sick last week, prompting the district to offer $50 a day bonus incentive pay for substitute teachers. 

"We are seeing an uptick in number who test positive, having to request quite a few subs, one strategy is central staff are serving in our classrooms," said Sherry Christian, Deputy Chief of Staff, Dallas ISD.

Many of those districts administrators serving as substitutes are still certified teachers. 

Plano ISD parent pushes for mask mandate

Plano ISD parent of two Paul Agruso is pushing for the district to bring back its mask mandate.

PISD is still unable to provide COVID-19 testing for students and staff. During the first week of school, the district blamed the delay of a statewide supply shortage. When the sites will be up and running is still to be determined. 

Plano also says it will follow the TEA’s revised isolation guidelines based on the CDC’s recommendation. Starting Monday, staff who test positive for COVID-19 only have to quarantine for five days. 

Currently, more than 150 employees and 1,100 students are out with COVID-19. 

The district says students still should stay home for 10 days. 

"When you have nothing in place and you are sending your kid, it just takes a few cases to magnify and sweep though the whole school," Agruso said.

Plano and other districts are also struggling with a shortage of bus drivers out sick. Bus routes were delayed Monday morning.

The district recommends parents consider driving their child to school themselves.

MORE: Coronavirus coverage