ROUND ROCK — While health experts continue to warn against masks and communities across the state continue to debate forced face coverings, one Central Texas school district board is disregarding data and instead decreeing their own “detrimental” rules on school kids.

The School Board’s Decision

Last week, amid community debate, the Round Rock Independent School District board voted 5-2 to continue forcing masks on kids at school.

The vote came after board member Danielle Weston led an unsuccessful effort to align the district with guidelines from the Texas Education Agency—specifically, to make masks optional for children under the age of 10 and students who are outside or exercising indoors.

Parents and citizens also weighed in on the topic, circulating two opposing petitions. One petition supports a forced mask policy for all students, while the other advocated for individuals and families to make their own health decisions.

According to a recent parent-created database, 125 school districts across the state have removed mask requirements, leaving the decision up to students and families.

Rules for Thee, but Not for Me?

RRISD trustees Weston and Dr. Mary Bone also said district officials were not even following their own forced rules, describing how the school board would have backroom pre-meeting dinners that were maskless and not socially distanced, then go “affix a mask to our faces and take our socially distanced seats at the dais and conduct our meetings.”

“We have chosen to stop participating in the virtue signaling or theater any longer since transparency from the dais is of utmost importance to us,” the trustees wrote in a press release this week.

“While 100% of our students have been required to wear a mask in order to receive a public education and we have been notified that some have even been denied access to recess as a penalty for not properly wearing a mask, some adult administrators have chosen not to wear a mask or worn their mask improperly while on RRISD property without penalty,” they added.

The Results of Taking off the Mask

More importantly, however, the trustees also argued that forcing masks on kids defies health evidence.

In early March, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott removed his statewide mask mandate, and in the month since, the state’s coronavirus cases have drastically plummeted. Hospitalizations, deaths, and cases have all significantly decreased, with hospitalizations dropping to 10-month lows and new cases dropping to record lows.

The Round Rock City Council also repealed its mask order in early April.

“Attempting to make mask rules stricter than TEA guidelines after all staff members have had the opportunity to receive at least the first dose of the vaccine … and as the Covid data (especially hospitalizations and deaths) have fallen like a rock proves that these masking policies have nothing to do with science, health or safety,” wrote Weston.

Experts Warn Against Masks

Furthermore, health experts have been warning to stop forced mask-wearing, 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 Stanford University’s Dr. Scott Atlas, who described the mask mandate evidence from numerous 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 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, recently 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.”

Questionable Decisions & Light at the End of the Tunnel?

“To date, there is no documented case of an adult contracting COVID from a student in a school. We will not participate in what we feel is harmful to children any longer,” said RRISD board member Weston. “There is a reason that requiring a student to wear a mask has been specifically prohibited by the Texas Education Code … for years. If it is wrong as a disciplinary tool, it’s wrong, period.”

Interestingly, despite district fliers and notices threatening mask “requirements” and penalties, RRISD’s official parent guide for health policy does not.

“All students in Pre-K through Grade 12 and all teachers, staff and adult visitors should [emphasis added] wear a face mask … anywhere on school grounds, including outside,” the policy reads.

“It is important for all RRISD stakeholders to understand that per this protocol that was affirmed in a vote by the board, there is apparently no mask mandate in RRISD,” said Weston. “There never has been a mask mandate in RRISD protocol.”

Trustees Weston and Bone concluded that it’s time for district officials to change course for the sake of the children’s health.

“Though well intended initially, we feel significant educational barriers have been put in place in RRISD and elsewhere in the name of science, health and safety (such as school closures, virtual learning and mask policies) and that these have had the net impact of reversing the academic progress of children and eroding their mental health in unthinkable ways,” they wrote.

It is time to stop the forced masking of students and adults in RRISD and begin working to close the achievement gap that has persisted in RRISD for years. … Until this mask issue is drawn to a close and children can confidently breathe freely, see their peers’ and teachers’ faces and look forward to going to school again, our efforts in closing the achievement gap will bear little fruit.

“Let’s get on the right side of history and get to work for our students.”

Concerned citizens may contact their school board members.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.