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Parent protests, letter campaigns on COVID protocols ramp up against districts

"It’s like we have this belief that COVID just vanished. It has not," Allen ISD parent Phill Carpenter said.

COLLIN COUNTY, Texas — Most all school districts in Texas are in full swing now that we’re approaching the end of August. At the same time, rallies and protests outside school districts have also ramped up in that time. 

Parents who are frustrated with their district’s COVID-19 action plans have made their words and voices seen and heard.

“We feel there are solutions that can give everyone a win,” said Phill Carpenter, an Allen ISD parent, who pulled his 6th grader out of school. 

Carpenter said it was a difficult decision to pull his child but knew immediately he had to do it after seeing few, if any, masks at the Meet the Teacher event.

“I’m losing sleep, I’m losing energy, and I’m losing momentum now,” said Allen ISD parent Snober Lakhani. 

Lakhani pulled two of her grade school children and is scrambling to find schooling options. She has spent close to 80 hours over two weeks applying, searching, and researching virtual and private school options.

Kelly Karthik, a Frisco ISD parent, was one of the 70 parents who showed up Thursday to the district headquarters to protest. It was their second protest since school started.

“The social distancing is non-existent right now. The lunch and extra-curricular activities concern us the most,” Karthik said.

Both Allen and Frisco parents have started letter campaigns to the district. Both sets of parents have gathered signatures and hope they make an impression on the school board and superintendent to make changes. The Frisco parents want hybrid learning options, increased masking, social distancing and better contact tracing.

“Inform the families. Narrow it down to the classroom, narrow it down to the department, and let the parents know,” said Frisco parent Alka Jwala about positive cases on campus.

Frisco ISD has no mask requirement on campuses but is offering virtual learning for early childhood to 6th grade students. This week, the district put in strategies to limit the size of gatherings and indoor contact on campus.

“The District has made online learning accommodations available to students who do not have the opportunity to receive vaccinations against COVID-19. This option is costing FISD $40 per student per day in lost funding from the state. We continue to evaluate our protocols where we see opportunity to effectively do so. Even with the online option for lower grades, we have thousands more students back on campus this year, which means some of the protocols we were able to utilize last year are no longer feasible. Earlier this week, we did add the following to our mitigation strategies: Schools will limit the size of gatherings and work to minimize indoor contact between students during lunch, transition times and other campus events and activities,” read a statement from Frisco ISD.

Allen parents have sent their own letters. Carpenter says they’ll hand over 700 signatures from Allen parents to the district by the end of the week.

“[There’s] no willingness to communicate or engage in conversation,” he said.

Carpenter said he can respect a difference in opinion on masks. He does, however, feel there are other options that could satisfy people on both sides on the mask issue.

Carpenter also said requiring masks for the younger students who can’t get vaccinated is a reasonable request. 

The Allen parents are also hoping the district explores requiring masks like it enforces its dress code. 

“Virtual would be a great opportunity until my immune-compromised children can have access to a vaccine,” Lakhani said.

“On May 4, 2021, Allen ISD sent a letter to all parents letting them know that the 2021-2022 school year would be held entirely in-person and that masks would be optional. While AISD has not changed its position on either of these topics, we value feedback from our parents and have updated several safety guidelines in response to the comments we have received. Regarding the request for virtual learning, students’ needs are best met in the classroom with a trained, professional teacher. This is evident from the statewide academic learning loss from the prior year, as noted by the Texas Education Agency. We remain steadfast in our commitment to refocusing our efforts during the 2021-2022 school year in providing an excellent education to our students and supporting their academic, social, and emotional needs in an in-person learning environment,” read a statement from Allen ISD.

Allen ISD is currently not requiring masks or offering virtual learning. The Allen parents would like virtual learning options, increased masking, social distancing, and better contact tracing. 

“It’s like we have this belief that COVID just vanished. It has not,” Carpenter said.