LACY LAKEVIEW, Texas — Connally ISD will require facemasks inside district buildings starting Tuesday, Sept. 7 in an effort to keep students healthy as COVID-19 cases increase within the district, Superintendent Wesley Holt said in a letter.
The school district made the decision citing a 16.3% positivity rate after nearly 600 students, staff and community members were tested for the virus over a two-day period late this week. The superintendent also cited a recent letter from the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District outlining statistics of positive cases among McLennan County youth.
"As educators, it is our duty to keep our students safe and healthy. We feel instituting a mask mandate is a step towards doing this," Holt said in the letter sent out Friday.
In the letter CISD cited, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health Authority Farley Verner urged school districts in the county to emphasize wearing face coverings in schools.
"Urge teachers and staff to set the example and show their concern for the welfare of others by wearing facemasks. Use whatever messaging you feel is best appropriate for your students to encourage their choice to wear facemasks," Verner said. "The best way to keep children in school this year is to keep individuals out of school who are COVID-19 positive, or who were a close contact to a COVID-19 positive individual, and to drastically increase the acceptance and use of facemasks at your facilities and events."
The district did not indicate in the letter if the mask mandate would be temporary, as some districts have opted to, or if it was to remain in place until further notice.
Connally ISD just had two of its junior high teacher die from COVID-19, less than a week apart. Shortly after the announcement of the second teacher's death, the district decided to close Connally Junior High School and then all of its campuses soon after.
David McCormick, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at the junior high, was the first CISD teacher to die from the virus. He died Tuesday, Aug. 24. Then, Natalia Chansler, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at the same school, died days after McCormick on Aug. 28, according to the school district.
All campuses closed starting Aug. 31 and are set to reopen for in-person learning on Sept. 7. The district said it was using the closure to conduct "deep cleaning and sanitizing of all CISD facilities" and to allow those who recently tested positive for the virus to recover.
The school district continues to encourage staff and students over the age of 12 to get vaccinated. CISD said it will hold a free vaccination clinic on Monday, Sept. 13 from 5-7:30 p.m. in the high school gym. All three vaccines will be offered.
"We will continue to consult with medical experts and monitor both legal and public health developments," Holt said. "However, at this time we believe that Connally ISD has to do its part to stop the spread of COVID in our district and community."