ROUND ROCK — Elected officials are removing mask mandates, coronavirus numbers are falling to record-lows across the state, and health experts are warning to stop forced mask-wearing—yet Central Texas school district officials are still considering requiring kids to wear face coverings at school.
Amid growing community debate, the Round Rock Independent School District – located in the suburb of Austin – will meet on Thursday to potentially modify or remove its mask policy. The district currently forces masks on all students pre-K through grade 12, even while outdoors on school grounds (though students are now allowed to remove masks during exercise).
According to a recent parent-created database, more than 90 school districts across the state have removed mask requirements, leaving the decision up to the individual students and families. The Texas Education Agency allows school districts, specifically school boards, the power to “modify or eliminate” recommended mask protocols.
Additionally, Gov. Greg Abbott in early March removed his statewide mask mandate, and the Round Rock City Council repealed its order last week.
In the month since the statewide mask mandate was lifted, Texas’ coronavirus cases have drastically plummeted. Hospitalizations, deaths, and cases have all fallen off, with hospitalizations dropping to 10-month lows and new cases dropping to record lows.
Like communities around Texas, parents in the Round Rock school district are debating what to do—and they are currently circulating two opposing petitions. One wants a forced mask policy on all students, while the other advocates that individuals and families have the right to make their own health decisions.
“Given the drastic decline in the data including cases, hospitalizations, and deaths statewide and here locally, it’s time to pivot to data-driven decisions when it comes to requiring children to wear a mask,” said RRISD board trustee Danielle Weston. “I speak for myself and not the entire board, but we as leaders must be looking for an exit ramp to [the forced masking of children] as soon as possible. The data speaks for itself and provides that exit ramp.”
And in addition to the data, health experts warn against forcing masks, especially on children.
In a recent roundtable discussion, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hosted several epidemiologists, doctors, and professors from Oxford, Harvard, and Stanford universities who questioned the mask mandates.
“There’s no scientific rationale or logic to have children wear masks in schools,” said Dr. Scott Atlas from Stanford University, who described the mask mandate evidence from numerous different counties, states, and countries.
“There’s no evidence that a mask mandate was effective in stopping the cases from spreading. … And, in fact, there is evidence as [Dr. Jay Bhattacharya] cited that the people in the United States at a very high frequency have been wearing masks for months, and the cases exploded,” Atlas said. “Whether it’s in certain states like Hawaii, Minnesota, you could look at all the data. So this has sort of become folklore—one of the many obsessions—and it’s been harmful.”
Atlas also mentioned a Center for Disease Control study from May 2020 reviewing data regarding face masks and the spread of the flu, a virus that “has [a] similar size to [the coronavirus].”
“Our systematic review found no significant effect of face masks on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza,” the CDC wrote.
“Children should not wear face masks, no. They don’t need it for their own protection, and they don’t need it for protecting other people, either,” said Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a biostatistician, epidemiologist, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford, added forcing masks on children is “developmentally inappropriate” and that it “just doesn’t help on the disease spread.”
“I think I heard the former CDC director say that masks were more effective than vaccines,” Dr. Bhattacharya said. “Well, I think the evidence just belies that. That’s not true. That was not true then; it’s not true now.”
Moreover, Dr. Sheri Tomak, a psychologist in North Texas, told Texas Scorecard she has “significant concerns about the adverse emotional consequences of such measures that are not supported by objective data.”
“Speaking as both a mom and a psychologist, the continued use of masks … does not appear warranted and is more of a detriment to our children,” she said. “Limiting social expression also adversely impacts the developing identity, which can lead to other psychological conditions, such as depression and anxiety.”
“Children desperately need to return to their classrooms, re-engage with their peers and community, and breathe freely. The mental health and academic progress of our youth have taken a beating over the last year,” RRISD board trustee Weston told Texas Scorecard. “I want these things reversed ASAP and will advocate and vote to that end.”
Concerned citizens may contact their local school board members.