Plano, Denton ISD end mask mandates in schools

Two school districts will make masks optional for students and staff this week. It comes after a drop in COVID-19 cases.

Plano ISD’s board of trustees voted Tuesday night against extending the district’s mask mandate. 

"To continue the mandate or the requirement, in my opinion, it just does not make sense," one person said.

"From a policymaker’s standpoint, I really don’t think that we should mandate masks with or without exemption," another person said.

"You can cherry pick whatever data you want or cherry pick whatever studies you want or whatever experts you want, but for me the fact that the vast majority of the medical community has a consensus around this," another person said.

Starting next week, masks are optional. Students and staff can still wear a mask in the classroom if they want to but they don’t have to.

Plano ISD reports only about 160 of its nearly 50,000 students are currently sick with COVID-19. There are also 16 cases among staff.

That’s way down from earlier this month when there were nearly 500 active cases.

"I personally think we have the worst behind us, unless delta is going to have a second big spike. If you look at India and their statistics, you look at the UK and their statistics, there’s not some big second spike. There are other variants out there but they aren’t affecting our communities right now," said Cody Weaver, a Plano ISD trustee.

"I would say, in the pediatric community, we certainly expect it to get worse," UTSW pediatrician Dr. Yolande Pengetnze said.

Dr. Pengetnze disagrees with Weaver’s assertion.

The hospital’s COVID-19 tracking data shows pediatric hospital cases in the four major North Texas counties have more than doubled since the previous peak last January. The largest group made up unvaccinated children.

She believes the decline in school district cases is a direct result of more people wearing masks.

"As soon as we let those guards down, we fully expect those numbers to start rising again, especially again once winter arrives," Dr. Pengetnze said.

RELATED: UT Southwestern COVID forecast shows decline in cases for third week in a row

Denton ISD also got rid of its mask mandate earlier this week.

The district said masks are strongly recommended but not required.

The superintendent sent out a letter to parents saying there’s been a decline in infections over the past several weeks across all Denton ISD campuses.

These changes follow new guidance from the Texas Education Agency sent down late last week. The TEA said schools cannot require masks since the governor put a ban on mask mandates in public schools.

The United States Department of Education is now investigating whether that guidance violates federal law by keeping students with disabilities from safely attending school.

RELATED: U.S. Dept of Education investigating TEA guidance prohibiting masks