With the looming threat of a more contagious strain of Covid-19, student health and measures available for Paris ISD to enact became a hot topic of debate that will remain unresolved until trustees meet again at 5:30 p.m. today at Paris High School.
Two members of the public, including Paris Mayor Paula Portugal, urged trustees to consider the masks as much a safety measure as seat belts in cars to help prevent the spread of the respiratory disease that hospitalized more than 1,900 U.S. children on Saturday.
“I’m asking you to do everything that you can to encourage your staff, teachers and students to wear a mask and set up the classrooms as socially distanced as possible,” said Portugal, herself a retired educator. “In the last two weeks, our president and CEO of Paris Regional Medical Center has published two articles in The Paris News begging citizens to be vaccinated and to wear a mask so that there are hospital beds available. Dr. Amanda Green has also published articles in our local paper asking that as many as are able be vaccinated. Pediatricians are begging the parents of their patients who are over the age of 12 to seriously consider vaccinations and to wear a mask. Those children will be wearing masks.
“Our state government has mandated that our children be buckled into car seats and seat belts because it’s a life-saving thing we automatically do every day. I’m asking you to be the leaders that our children deserve and encourage vaccinations and masks. And I hope you have a great school year.”
Those sentiments were echoed later in the meeting by a speaker identified as Mrs. Hargis. She told the board she’s been vaccinated for other viruses, including polio, tuberculosis and the flu, and she implored board members and the public to get the Covid-19 vaccine and to wear masks.
“Children under 12 do not have the luxury of getting a Covid shot to protect themselves from getting Covid and the variants,” she said. “Florida schools opened last week, and three teachers and children have already died from Covid. I wonder what the Texas Supreme Court or any of us would say to those families. The health and safety of our children is priority number one.”
Trustees later discussed the topic of masks during executive session, and ultimately decided to reconvene in an emergency meeting this evening.
Covid-19 also is behind a continued temporary change in Paris ISD’s DEC policy that will provide staff up to 10 Covid absence days on top of their own sick and vacation days. The policy was temporarily instituted during the last school year when the federal government provided 10 Covid days and the district added 10 more. This school year, only the district’s 10 days remain. Staff will have to have confirmation of either a positive test or a positive result for a member of their household to use the days, Super-intendent Paul Jones said.
During discussion, Trustee Jenny Wilson proposed using the 10 day benefit as an incentive to encourage staff to seek vaccination and to wear masks in classrooms.
“I want to incentivize them, to encourage good behavior, which I think includes vaccinations if you’re able, and definitely wearing a mask,” Wilson said. “So, to give a teacher 10 days off with pay because, you know, they were following those guidelines, I support that 100% because nothing is 100% effective, not a mask, not a vaccine. But if they are in the classroom unvaccinated and no mask, I have a little bit of a problem giving them that benefit.”
Staff with medical conditions preventing them from wearing a mask would be exempt, trustees said.
“I think you’re getting off in the weeds there a little bit,” Trustee Clifton Fendley said. “I understand your sentiment, but enforcing that is problematic at best and probably discriminatory at worst.”
The item was tabled until after trustees met in executive session. After reconvening in public, trustees approved the 10 days change for all staff.
In other business, trustees were the first to receive a flyer with a link to the new Wildcat Athletic App that will allow the district to push notifications of moved games or other athletic news to those who download it. The app is not yet publicly available, but will be soon, trustees were told.