Coronavirus

Keep It On: Dallas ISD's Mask Mandate to Stay Until MLK Day

Experts are still learning about how the new variant affects children.
Experts are still learning about how the new variant affects children. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott celebrated a court ruling that restored his ban on school mask mandates. The news came the same day that the new coronavirus variant, omicron, was first reported in the United States.

But on Friday, Dallas ISD doubled down on its own district-wide mask requirement. In a statement on its website, the district wrote that its mandate will stay in effect until Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Day, as long as the current COVID case numbers remain steady.

“If and when the mask mandate is lifted, the district will still recommend the wearing of masks in schools and offices for the safety of students and staff,” spokesperson Robyn Harris said by email.

Experts are still learning about the severity of the omicron variant, including how it affects children. Omicron was first reported by officials in South Africa, who are noting a “sharp increase” in hospital admissions, especially among children under the age of 5, according to The Daily Beast.

But regardless of the politics behind mask mandates, many educators and public health experts are applauding Dallas ISD’s decision.

The Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) is happy that Dallas ISD is following the advice of health experts in the interest of employees and students, said spokesperson Clay Robison. TSTA hopes the district will keep its mandate in effect if the omicron variant causes another surge.

“We also hope that the governor will come to his senses and listen to health experts and withdraw his ban on mask mandates,” Robison said, “and let local school districts follow the advice of health experts and not political figures.”

“When parents wear masks, kids will wear masks." – Dr. Tiffany Kindratt

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This week is critical for Dallas ISD students to get vaccinated before the district’s mandate is removed, said Dr. Tiffany Kindratt, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington. There’s a waiting period of 21 days between doses, and it takes 14 days after the second shot to hit full protection. So, those who can should get the first jab by Dec. 12.

Since the district is still strongly recommending face coverings, Kindratt said, it’s a good idea for parents to make them fun. She lets her son pick out his own masks, which might be baseball- or Avengers-themed, depending on the day.

Parents who want their kid to continue wearing a mask should notify the teacher of that preference, she added. It’s also important for adults to model that behavior at home by getting vaccinated and signing up for a booster when the time’s right.

“When parents wear masks, kids will wear masks,” Kindratt said. “And when their friends wear masks, they will wear masks. They won’t have a problem with it.”

Districts should continue talking with public health officials to learn how to best reduce the risk of transmission, said Dr. Rodney E. Rohde, a professor and chair of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State University. Risk reduction is about “layered protection,” including masking up, getting vaccinated, properly ventilating rooms and spreading out seats.

When it comes to voluntarily wearing a mask in class, it all comes down to a personal risk assessment, said Rohde, who’s also an associate adjunct professor at Austin Community College. Parents with kids who have asthma or autoimmune disorders may even consider at-home schooling.

Texans need to continue protecting themselves, but they should also think of those around them who may be immunocompromised, he said. “It’s just going to depend on the family and the child, and really, their state of health,” Rohde said. “It’s so important for people to consider other people in this situation.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter