With less than 36 hours remaining before Fort Worth public school corridors fill with students at the beginning of the new school year, parents concerned that their children will be imperiled by the coronavirus without a compulsory face-mask policy demonstrated on Saturday outside the house of the city’s school board president.
The parents sought the attention of Tobi Jackson, they said, because she has the authority to call an emergency board meeting to consider a face-covering requirement for students and other people inside district buildings.
For a time earlier in the week, the parents’ fear calmed as Superintendent Kent Scribner announced that masks would be required indoors and on buses under a policy that he could direct without a board vote. A group of other parents who consider masks to be harmful to elements of education in ways that they believe override the benefits coverings have as a measure to thwart the virus’ transmission on Friday successfully sought a temporary restraining order in Tarrant County District Court to end the school district’s plan.
Legal quarrels are underway across the state to resolve the conflict between an executive order issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits local governments from enacting mask requirements and city councils, county judges and school boards that have disregarded the governor on the matter.
Scribner has that said that he made his decision after he received a letter signed by 125 physicians from Cook Children’s Health Care System that discussed the importance of masking and social distancing. Elementary-age students are ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Warren Norred, the attorney representing parents who are opposed to a mask requirement, argued that the virus was unlikely to result in death for children and referred to an assessment of a clinical psychologist that students would, with masks, miss critical nonverbal communication such as seeing a teacher’s smile.
Parents who support a mandate now see a board vote, which could also be scheduled if four trustees other than Jackson call for it, as a central step to win the policy battle.
The Fort Worth board’s position to decline to consider and vote on the matter was a “failure of leadership,” said parent Max Krochmal, 39.
Jackson, he said, “was playing political football with our kids’ lives.” Krochaml and other parents also said that the district should, as it did last school year, offer online classes for some students.
Four parents of students who attend Fort Worth ISD schools filed a petition seeking the temporary restraining order.
At a hearing in 141st District Court in Fort Worth, Judge John Chupp suggested that it was improper for Scribner to determine the school system’s policy on masks because his office is not subject to an election.
The restraining order will be in effect at least until Aug. 26. Chupp will consider a temporary injunction at a hearing on that date.
The lawsuit identifies parents Jennifer Treger, Todd Daniel, Kerri Rehmeyer and an anonymous mother as plaintiffs in the case. Superintendent Scribner and the Fort Worth school district are the defendants.
The district’s face-covering policy was an illegal act under Abbott’s executive order prohibiting local government mask mandates, the lawsuit asserts.
In a statement on Chupp’s order, a Fort Worth ISD representative said, “We believe Tuesday’s announcement regarding masks for students, employees, and visitors to our campuses was the right thing to do. However, we will certainly honor today’s court order blocking the mask requirement.
“Nevertheless, FWISD strongly recommends that all students, parents, employees and visitors, please, consider the importance of wearing a face mask while we are still in the midst of the pandemic and COVID cases remain high,” the district’s statement said.
Alex Vorse, 39, said that his daughter is 10 and unvaccinated because her age makes her ineligible for vaccination. She also has a health condition that could make COVID-19 symptoms more severe were she to contract the virus, he said. A board vote would satisfy at least one of Chupp’s concerns, he said.
“All we want is to stay safe and stay in the district,” Vorse said.
The demonstration that he helped to organize on Saturday involved a mock funeral procession from Eastern Hills High School to Jackson’s house, which people in 19 vehicles circled. The school mask matter is grave, Vorse suggested.
The protesting parents left stuffed animals of the sort that someone might bring to a sick child in the hospital or add to a memorial in Jackson’s front yard.