Parent Stephanie McCartney is considering her options for the upcoming school year now that districts cannot require students to wear masks while in class.

Fort Worth ISD students Logan, right, and Lucas McCartney recently received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Contributed by Stephanie McCartney)

Her 12-year-old son, Logan, has a chronic lung disease — a factor putting him at high risk for COVID-19. He has been attending classes virtually since the pandemic started last year. To keep him safe, McCartney said her family has hunkered down at home. 

“Even though he is partially vaccinated, he is still at risk. I am terrified of what the fall will look like, and I am strongly considering pulling him from public schooling and homeschooling him instead,” McCartney told the Fort Worth Report. “We are scared.”

Through an executive order, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott banned school districts from enforcing a mask-wearing mandate after June 4. It applies to anyone on a public school campus.

That prohibition worries families like McCartney’s who may have to leave their public school when the new academic year begins in August because it is likely all students will be back on their campuses for mask-optional, face-to-face instruction. While student vaccinations are encouraged for some families, many parents know not all children will get their shot — especially since it will not be required.

“Our school year goes all the way through June 18 … so after June 4 masks would not be required, they would be optional,” Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner said during a virtual forum last week. “Certainly, people are not going to be prohibited from wearing masks, but we would not require them for any student.”

The Fort Worth ISD school board in July revised the district’s calendar, shifting the entire schedule back by about two weeks. School started Sept. 8 and will end June 18. Previously, classes were scheduled to begin Aug. 17 and end May 27, according to the initial academic calendar.

McCartney hopes Fort Worth ISD will have a remote instruction option for homes that have family members who are immunocompromised.

“I think FWISD needs to continue offering virtual learning until herd immunity is reached,” she said.

Local health officials estimate around 70% of Tarrant County residents need to get their shots before reaching herd immunity. The county is nowhere near that threshold. Nearly 40% of residents 12 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Carla Hearl Morton, the president of Fort Worth ISD’s special education PTA, talked about Abbott’s decision with her sons, Ben, 11, and Collin, 13. Both boys are attending classes in person after struggling with remote instruction.

“I’m going to leave it to them, and let them know that this mask provides some protection for you, but other people masking is what really protects you,” said Morton, a pediatric neuropsychologist.

Collin, who is in special education classes, just received his first COVID-19 shot. Afterward, Morton asked Collin how he felt. 

“He said happy because he knew that once he is vaccinated, you’re good,” she said. 

He will get his second on June 4, Morton said. Ben, though, won’t be eligible for the vaccine until October. That could change depending on if Pfizer receives authorization this fall to give its immunization to children between 2 and 11.

Collin “will have some protection. My younger son is the one who actually had COVID who may have some antibodies,” Morton said. “But still it makes me nervous for them to be in school for those last two weeks with a classmate potentially being unmasked.”

Emily Williams is another concerned Fort Worth ISD parent. She has three special needs children — Katherine, 13; Caroline, 11; and Isaac, 3.

“I am highly concerned that children are at risk without masks,” Williams said. “I’m more concerned they will bring home COVID to their communities of color and multigenerational households that go to our neighborhood middle school and high school who are, understandably, weary or fearful of the medical system and government in general.”

Medical experts told the Report that many in Black and Latino communities have a distrust of the medical system, especially those connected to the government. Those factors have led to many residents being hesitant toward getting vaccinated.

Tarrant County minority residents continue to lag behind their white neighbors in getting jabbed, local vaccine data shows.

Abbott’s mask-mandate ban also applies to school districts’ summer school programs. Fort Worth ISD’s summer session begins June 23 and ends July 22. Virtual courses will be offered only to certain high school students. Middle school and elementary students will be required to attend summer school in person. 

While masking will not be mandatory after June 4, students can still wear a facial covering if they want.

“We can encourage, we can welcome and we can allow, but they will not be required,” Scribner said.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

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