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'Anxious & Overwhelmed': North Texas Parents Face A New School Year, Changing Mask Requirements

A family walks into DISD's headquarters.
Keren Carrión
A family enters the Dallas ISD headquarters on August 9, 2021.

With all the back-and-forth about mask requirements for local school districts, we wanted to find out what North Texas parents are thinking as they head into the new school year.

Several large school districts in the state are issuing mask requirements in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott's order banning mask mandates.

Case numbers and the number of hospital patients with COVID-19 have continued to surge, igniting debate about approaches to school reopenings. Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin ISDs have been some of the districts who have pushed back against Abbott’s order. On Tuesday, judges issued a temporary orders allowing Dallas County, Bexar County and the City of San Antonio to enforce mask mandates for local schools.

Public School

Crystal Martinez has two children enrolled in pre-k and Kindergarten at Forney ISD, which is not requiring masks. She said she’s conflicted about sending her children back to school and hopes Forney will follow Dallas ISD’s mask mandate.

“We’re just anxious and overwhelmed,” Martinez said. “I question our decision to send our kids to school just because the numbers keep going up and I see that there are more pediatric hospitalizations, which worries me as my kids are 5, 4 and 2 so they don’t have a vaccination for them and we really don’t know when to expect it.”

Desoto ISD parent Dane’le Dupree is also uneasy about the new school year. She has two children, one starting pre-K and the other starting second grade.

Dupree said the district isn’t requiring masks, but she hopes that’ll change. The mother of two is also worried about schools not being required to report cases.

“I’m a little nervous about the start of school only because of the mask situation and I’m hearing that contact tracing and reporting of COVID will not have to be reported to the parents, so that’s definitely a big concern for me this school year,” she said.

Alicia Casey said she’s frustrated about Carrollton-Farmer’s Brach ISD’s decision not to require masks. She has three children in 5th grade, second grade and kindergarten.

On Tuesday, the first day of school, she saw a mix of children who were and weren’t wearing masks.

“I feel that masks should have been required for all safety,” she said. “Everyone wore masks last school year and I felt that even though it was annoying our kids handled it better than the adults.”

She said she’s worried there’ll be a rise in COVID-19 again, but this time there’s no funding for virtual education. Casey said she’s concerned that children who might need to be quarantined will miss out on their education.

Richardson ISD parent Linda Guerrero said she’s uncertain whether she’ll send her second grader to in-person school or go virtual. Since the school district isn’t requiring masks, she’s waiting to see whether people wear masks at an upcoming meet-the-teacher event.

I have a feeling it’s going to be horrible — most likely we will go virtual,” she said. “I think it’s a horrible policy. I wish there was a mask mandate to at least protect my children, especially since I have two younger ones at home.”

As an attorney, Guerrero said the last year of homeschooling her daughter was difficult.

“I feel like she’s going to continue to be behind or get behind because I am not trained as a teacher,” she said. “I’m terrified, therefore her health to me is more important because I feel like she can eventually catch up. But I just think it’s unfair and things are not being done to protect the little ones, especially since there’s not a vaccine.”

Private School

Private schools are exempt from Gov. Abbott’s order banning mask mandates. Michelle Young sends her first grader to St. Phillip & St. Augustine Catholic Academy in Dallas.

When Young first heard that masks would be required, she said she was disappointed.

“I actually support masking,” she said. “I was just disappointed because I did want my daughter to have a normal school year and I was hoping that we could have return to that for first grade since pre-k was disrupted and kinder was fully masked last year.”

However, given the highly contagious delta variant, she said she’s ok with the policy. But Young’s committed to sending her daughter to in-person school for her social and educational well-being.

“I think it’s important that she’s in school and because she’s in a private school, they have very small classrooms. So if a mask is needed for her to be there, I will fully support that.”

Given the way the academy carefully handled the last year of in-person school, Young said she didn’t feel any hesitation about sending her daughter back.

Parent Emily Perlmeter sends her preschooler to the Alcuin School, a private montessori school in Dallas. She said she’s happy with the school’s decision to require masks.

I feel great that the school system that my daughter is entering is prioritizing her health and safety and the health and safety of those who may be immunocompromised in the community,” she said.

Overall, Perlmeter said she’s “frustrated and disheartened” by the lack of progress over the past year and a half in protecting children.

“Now we have a vaccine but our kids are more at risk than they otherwise could have been just because too many adults don’t seem to believe the science and because of policymakers who prioritize the feelings of those adults,” she said.

Perlmeter said it’s scary being a parent and worrying her child might face severe complications or hospitalization due to COVID-19. She said all she can do is “cross her fingers” and trust the adults that are taking care of her child.

Are you a parent or student who wants to share how they're feeling about the new school year? Fill out this form and let us know your thoughts.

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Corrected: August 11, 2021 at 6:15 PM CDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the grade levels of Alicia Casey's children.
Elizabeth Myong is KERA’s Arts Collaborative Reporter. She came to KERA from New York, where she worked as a CNBC fellow covering breaking news and politics. Before that, she freelanced as a features reporter for the Houston Chronicle and a modern arts reporter for Houstonia Magazine.