School resumes along with division, angst over safety measures
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the September issue of Park Cities People.
During a four-hour session in a meeting room packed with neighbors divided over COVID-19 protocols, a high school junior stepped up to plead with Highland Park ISD trustees.
“How can a student receive an education when their safety is put at risk, especially when their safety can be so easily assured by wearing a mask?” Adam Leybovich-Glickin asked.
The teen’s remarks drew immediate cheers and jeers.
Even last year when there was a mask mandate, kids who asked others to wear masks correctly or even at all were teased and made fun of.
Tensions over masking and other protocols remain as the district has embarked on another year of pandemic instruction, this time amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations attributed to the delta variant.
HPISD began the 2021-2022 school year with masks recommended but not required. That’s in keeping with Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning local governments from requiring face coverings.
“I know we cannot mandate,” trustee Doug Woodward lamented. “I would like to see us take a strong stand that it is strongly recommended and, in fact, perhaps even expected that we will have people wear masks to help out.”
A few days earlier, modest-sized groups gathered outside a Highland Park townhome believed to belong to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins to protest a masking mandate, later paused by the Texas Supreme Court.
“We will not comply,” they chanted. “I can’t breathe! No freedom, no peace!”
Around the state, legal challenges to the governor’s July order are working their way through the courts, and many districts, including Dallas ISD, are imposing mask restrictions anyway.
“It is a pretty tangled and complicated web,” said law professor Dale Carpenter, the Judge William Hawley Atwell Chair of Constitutional Law at SMU. “They have to balance their legal obligations and what they feel they can do to protect the health of students, and teachers, and staff.”
More than 160 physician parents signed a letter urging the HPISD to follow federal and American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that include universal indoor masking for everyone ages 2 and older.
“Our hospitals, in particular our children’s hospitals, are already at ICU capacity,” Dr. Zachary Dreyfuss said. “What that means is that if our children were to get sick, not just with COVID, but any of the normal things that children can get sick with … there may not be sufficient medical treatment for them.”
During her turn to address trustees, Kristin Daniels, a mother of two students, drew cheers when she responded, “I saw my doctor in here, and he’s fired!”
Eric Swanson, another parent of two students, interpreted the minimal masking seen at meet-the-teacher events as a sign the “community’s moved on from masks” and warned what to expect if “our local tyrant Clay Jenkins tries again to institute an illegal mask mandate.
“Hundreds upon hundreds, if not thousands, of children will show up to this district’s schools without masks with a copy of (Abbott’s order) in their pocket,” Swanson predicted.
Eighth-grader Elaine Carte-Engel won’t be among those.
“If you really think fighting over masks won’t make its way to students, it already has,” she told trustees. “Even last year when there was a mask mandate, kids who asked others to wear masks correctly or even at all were teased and made fun of.”