WATCH: Amarillo ISD to make masks optional for students and staff, pre-k through 5th grade starting Monday

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — During a special meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Amarillo Independent School District’s Board of Trustees voted to make masks optional starting Monday, April 19, for students pre-k to fifth grade inside the building.

Masks will still be required for students and staff in sixth grade and up until May 17.

The Amarillo Independent School District met Thursday at 1 p.m., wrapping up nearly four hours later.

First, Board President Robin Malone acknowledged public comments via email. Then, in-person public comment began. It included input from several parents against mask requirements and input from health leaders, like Northwest Texas Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brian Weis.

“We honestly don’t know what are going to be the long-term implications of this particular virus,” Dr. Weis said to the board. “It sounds like you have a decision to make over the next five weeks. I would implore you to say, ‘Let’s stick with the masks for five weeks…'”

Dr. Weis said the board ought to consider what is occurring in regards to coronavirus variants and vaccination efforts, as he encouraged them to stick with mask requirements.

MyHighPlains.com also heard from an AISD parent after the board headed into an executive session before voting.

“We would like to see the board vote to make masks optional in Amarillo schools because we feel that this is such a personal decision. No two children have the same journey throughout their education,” said Cindy Davis. “We just feel like these decisions are best made by the parents, the people that deal with these children on a daily basis and know what their true needs are.”

After executive session, the board returned for more discussion, including on an initial motion.

AISD officials also provided data to the board before the vote, showing decreases in student and staff cases and quarantines.

“The original motion was around just falling back to TEA’S and CDC’s original guidance that students under the age of 10 years, do not necessarily have to be masked up,” said Superintendent Doug Loomis. “And just after a lot of discussion, and on what that causes, the issues that it causes at school, the board made a recommendation to just remove—make masks optional for pre-K through fifth grade. Then starting on May 17, it will become optional for secondary students as well.”

The board also granted Loomis authority to maximize mask break times for secondary students, which include recess, transition periods, and during outdoor activities.

That motion passed by a vote of four to three. Vice President David Nance, along with board members Doyle Corder, Alonzo Everhart, and Dick Ford, voted in favor. Malone, Kayla Mendez, and Kimberly Anderson voted against it.

“Then they ultimately came back and made an amendment that it also includes staff members, and I guess adults, at each one of those
campuses,” Loomis added.

AISD has one campus, Lorenzo de Zavala Middle School, which is only for fifth and sixth graders. Fifth grade students and staff will not be required to wear masks as of Monday, April 19. Meanwhile, those six graders and their teachers and staff will be required to wear them until May 17.

“It’ll cause a little bit of stress at the campus because they’re the only campus that’s not pre-K through five, as it were. They’re fifth and sixth grade and so there’ll be a little bit of variance or and we’ll have to work through that as a staff,” said Loomis.

Loomis said although masks will ultimately be optional, quarantining after exposure will not be.

“So, if there are positive cases within the district, or within the city and that contact tracing comes back that I sat around a group of students or I was in an entire classroom without masks, there is a high likelihood that there will be large quarantines,” he said.

These changes come near the end of the semester, as AISD’s last day of classes is on May 28.

This is a developing story. Stay with MyHighPlains.com for the latest.


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