Bryan, College Station ISDs say they will not mandate masks or vaccines at district schools

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 11:05 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - The Bryan and College Station ISD superintendents answered questions at the Brazos County Health District press conference Monday about how COVID-19 is affecting school operations with the first week of the new school year in the books.

The two largest school districts in the Brazos Valley said they will not be mandating face masks or vaccines for staff members.

Bryan ISD Superintendent Christie Whitbeck and College Station ISD Superintendent Mike Martindale also discussed what voluntary masking looks like in their schools, and what could drive potential shutdown scenarios if virus transmission were to drastically increase.

Both superintendents say there is no specific threshold that’s been established that would shut schools down, and that schools will remain open so long as they have enough available staff to keep them operating.

“The difference with closing classrooms tends to be about staff, and Mr. Martindale mentioned that, but that is where the rubber will meet the road,” Whitbeck said. “There’s only so many substitutes in the Brazos Valley, so this is why we really do want to encourage the masks at this time because we know that closure will most likely be due to an adult not being able to be in a classroom.”

The superintendents also said it’s too early in the school year to tell if COVID-19 has affected attendance numbers. They say a big reason why is that enrollment figures are still fluid as students get settled in.

“Through the course of the first week, really you’re determining who’s there and kids are getting enrolled, and then we go through a process for the end of the first week removing students who may be were enrolled or have withdrawn or went to other schools.”

Despite the tremendous amount of confusion, Brazos County Health Authority Dr. Seth Sullivan said at the outset of the press conference that mask mandates remain illegal in the state of Texas, but regardless, some students and staff still choose to wear one while at school. Dr. Sullivan said he recommends mask use in schools.

Both superintendents say those who are choosing to wear a mask in school varies across the board, whether it be by campus, classroom, or grade level. Whitbeck says it appears to vary anywhere from 25% to over 50% in any given Bryan ISD classroom, but Martindale says he’s noticed more of a difference between older and younger students in his district.

”I do think that we have a greater number of folks masking at the lower grade levels as opposed to the secondary, but it is a mixed bag,” Martindale said. “Again, it varies from room to room. It can vary from campus to campus, and I do think it varies from level.”

The superintendents say they are encouraging as many people as possible to wear a mask while at school. Whitbeck says keeping schools open is paramount to children thriving, and the younger the student is, the more the loss of learning will hurt him or her because they have less of a foundation.

Bryan and College Station ISD continue to update COVID-19 dashboards daily on their websites.

As of Monday Bryan ISD reported 35 positive student cases and 17 positive staff cases.

College Station ISD reported a total of 59 positive student cases and 27 positive staff cases. College Station has reported two recovered cases since August 17.

Both districts break down cases by campus. Bryan High has eight positive student cases, the highest district-wide. College Station High School has 16 positive student cases, the highest in the district.

District Dashboards:

Bryan ISD

College Station ISD

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