Longview ISD Superintendent James Wilcox said Wednesday that the district’s recently implemented mask mandate isn’t political.
“Our goal is to try to help our community understand that the mask is just a piece of cloth, it’s not a political statement,” Wilcox said at Wednesday’s board meeting. “We are asking our students, our staff to work to show respect to the person next to them, the person down the hall, the person that might have whatever in their life or in their family.”
The district issued the mandate, which began Monday, in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases among its campuses.
“We have multiple times over, more students and more faculty contract COVID after one week than we had at any point last year during the pandemic,” Wilcox said. “Our desire is to maintain open school, face-to-face learning.”
According to a statement released Friday by the district, all students, staff and visitors must wear face coverings at district facilities.
Cases of COVID-19 among students and staff are higher than this past year, the statement said, and “cases are emerging at an alarming rate.”
“We felt like this was something we did not have a choice in,” Wilcox said.
Through the 2020-21 school year, Wilcox said the district had one of the lowest COVID-19 absentee rates in the area, and the district would like to maintain that.
He said the decision to mandate masks was not taken lightly.
“It was with a great deal of deliberation, and this is something that the leadership team will continue to review,” Wilcox said.
He added that as of Wednesday, masks are not required for outdoor activities, including sporting events.
As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, the district has reported 99 active student COVID-19 cases and 41 active staff cases, which is an increase from Friday’s totals. On Friday, 28 active student COVID-19 cases and 38 active employee cases were reported through the district’s dashboard.
Since school started, there have been 104 total student cases and 60 staff cases across Longview ISD.
During Wednesday’s board meeting, several staff shortages were mentioned connected to COVID-19, including a lack of food service workers.
Wilcox said a virtual learning plan is being considered for students who must quarantine due to COVID-19 and for students who are ill.
He said the district would like to provide options for students to keep them from falling behind throughout the school year should they need to stay home.
State funding has not yet been made available for virtual learning, although a Texas House committee recently advanced a bill that would provide money to districts with certain conditions, The Texas Tribune reported.
Longview ISD’s move on face coverings no longer defies a statewide ban on mask mandates previously issued by Gov. Greg Abbott after the Texas Supreme Court declined this past week to block restraining orders against the ban.