The few area school districts that still have mask mandates plan to drop them this month, two weeks after federal recommendations were eased for most of the country, leaving the San Antonio Independent School District as the apparent lone holdout.
Edgewood Independent School District students and staff won’t have to wear masks when they return from spring break Monday, following Harlandale ISD’s decision to rescind its mask mandate earlier this month.
“The decision was made as we enter a new phase of the COVID pandemic coupled with the improvement of the most recent metrics with the risk level in our city, the Edgewood community and the district’s high vaccination rate and low positivity rates,” Superintendent Eduardo Hernandez wrote in a letter to students, staff and families.
San Antonio ISD plans to survey staff and families to determine whether SAISD should lift the mask mandate after spring break, interim Superintendent Robert Jaklich wrote in a letter.
“We realize that there is a delicate balance between safety and learning, and we will continue to strive to meet both expectations to the best of our ability,” Jaklich wrote. “The health and safety of our SAISD family remains our number one priority, just as much as academic progress remains our number one focus.”
SAISD’s positivity rate fell from 2.5% in mid-February to 1% in the first week of March, according to Jaklich’s letter. The district conducts weekly COVID-19 testing for students and staff who want to get tested through a partnership with local nonprofit Community Labs.
The CDC relaxed mask recommendations Feb. 25 to allow people in communities with low COVID-19 transmission rates to forgo wearing masks indoors. At the time, Bexar County was classified by the agency as having a “high” level of virus transmission and recommended the continued use of masks. As of Friday, the CDC’s community levels classification for Bexar County was “low,” indicating that residents can leave their masks at home.
Although Harlandale ISD has lifted its mask mandate, the district plans to reevaluate that decision when school resumes Monday after spring break, Superintendent Gerardo Soto wrote in a letter to staff, students and families.
“Even though our cases have gone down significantly, we are well aware that the virus is still out there,” he wrote in the letter. “Please be careful and continue to follow safety protocols as you enjoy the break. If the cases rise when we return from break we will have to put the mask mandate back into place.”
Meanwhile, Edgewood ISD will continue to enforce other COVID-19 protocols, such as weekly testing for students and staff who want to get tested and frequent cleaning of common areas. The district also plans to keep offering vaccination clinics for the community.
San Antonio’s largest school district, Northside ISD, rescinded its mask mandate Feb. 14 based on improving COVID-19 metrics in the area and in schools. The district had restored the mask mandate Jan. 20 while trying to combat the supercontagious omicron variant of the coronavirus and the high rates of absenteeism that accompanied it. Almost 20% of students and 15% of staff missed school the first two weeks of January.
It’s unclear what impact the lifting of mask mandates will have on the legal battle school districts have been locked in with Gov. Greg Abbott, who issued an executive order in July prohibiting school districts and other governmental entities from mandating masks. Dozens of school districts, including NISD, have sued the governor, claiming he lacks the authority to prevent districts from adopting mask mandates.