Following Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement Tuesday that he will end a statewide mask mandate and reopen the Texas economy “100%,” school districts around the state are grappling with mask policies.

The Texas Education Agency has yet to release guidance for public schools on mask wearing, but at least one Red River Valley school district has already taken action.

Clarksville ISD Superintendent Kermit Ward said he feels his students, staff and their families are safer when masks are worn and announced Wednesday that the district will continue to require masks on campuses.

“I’m not a politician. But this is what I feel. In my opinion, I think that’s a little too much too soon,” Ward said of Abbott’s decision.

He said his choice to be proactive with an announcement was to quell confusion and motivated out of his concern for students, families and for teachers who have not been vaccinated.

“A few have (been vaccinated),” Ward said. “But the greater majority of my teachers have not … They should have been prioritized initially.”

Ward said the Clarksville community has shown support for him and his decision to keep masks on students and staff as a safety precaution.

“They have been extremely, extremely supportive and understanding of the decisions that I have had to make,” Ward said. “This community really does understand that there’s not a one-size-fits-all when you’re making these types of decisions.”

Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that masks are effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus and that “people age 2 and older should wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household.”

Chisum ISD Superintendent Tommy Chalaire, Prairiland ISD Superintendent Jeff Ballard and Paris ISD Public Information Officer Melanie Meredith said their districts are waiting on guidance from TEA before making a decision about a new mask policy.

For many of them, Abbott’s decision was abrupt and they’ll need to take time to figure out what their individual districts will decide to do.

“We’re going to do what’s best for everyone involved, but this is such a hard place because (Abbott’s announcement) was so sudden,” Meredith said.

Ballard agreed.

“The governor has put us in a pretty tough predicament to make this decision,” he said.

Ballard said, while he hasn’t made a decision yet, he and many people in his district would be happy to see the masks go.

“I think most everybody’s sick of them,” Ballard said. “I think most everybody’s ready to get rid of them. But we’ve got to look at the big picture. We’re gonna look and see if it’s the best thing for our kids.”

Meredith said a leadership team at Paris ISD, including Superintendent Paul Jones, Assistant Superintendent of Personnel & Student Services Gary Preston and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction & Accountability Althea Dixon, will make a decision once guidance from TEA is released, but she knows the issue is a sensitive one for many.

“We understand the controversy and that it’s split down the middle,” Meredith said.

Representatives from North Lamar ISD, Honey Grove ISD, Detroit ISD and Rivercrest ISD did not return calls for comment by press time.

Julia Furukawa is the assistant managing editor for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-8744 or at julia.furukawa@theparisnews.com.

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