Stopping the Spread

Students, Staff Discuss Mandate Measures Limiting Spread of COVID-19


Photo by Paige Hert

Sitting in the cafeteria, masked juniors eat lunch together. Schoolwide, students like junior Yash Shah are in full support of the mask mandate as a necessary measure against the COVID-19 pandemic. “Masks are CDC-approved equipment that amount to a simple piece of cloth on your face, so I think people should at least wear them,” Shah said.

Jaden Kolenbrander, Reporter

Amid the school’s rise in positive COVID-19 cases among teachers and students, a mask mandate was implemented to reduce the spread. It is part of wider opposition in Texas against Governor Greg Abbott’s statewide order to ban mask and vaccine mandates for local governments. 

The decision by the school board to implement a mask mandate was not passed unanimously. Two members of the LISD Board of Trustees, Board Member Aaron Johnson and Board Secretary Elexis Grimes, dissented, with the former citing the violation of Abbot’s order. Students are also able to opt out of the mandate if they choose to do so. At the schoolwide level, however, a mask mandate is seen as a necessary countermeasure to the spreading of the Delta variant, a new strain of COVID-19 that now makes up 93% of COVID-19 infections worldwide.

“Once the cases of the Delta variant surged and the CDC recommended masks for all, it was not a surprise that LISD issued the mask requirement,” Principal John Sloan said. “This decision will not satisfy everyone, but it does emphasize the district’s position while still providing choice.”

The largest demographic that this mandate aims to protect are students, the 2,000+ student body who all come from various diverse locations to one campus, increasing the risk of spreading the disease to other students and their families. Students like junior Yash Shah are largely in support of the mask mandate, citing it as a simple fix to the pandemic.

“COVID-19 cases in Austin are rising rapidly, so I am in support of the mandate,” Shah said. “Masks are CDC-approved equipment that amount to a simple piece of cloth on your face, so I think people should at least wear them.”

Personal experiences are another factor that affect student opinion on public health measures against COVID-19. Junior Eshan Bharadwaj, who has relatives in India, a country that dealt with a devastating wave in May, speaks about the mask mandate with his family in mind.

“I was definitely more cautious about the pandemic after hearing what happened in India,” Bharadwaj said. “With the Delta variant becoming more prominent, people should be taking those extra precautions, so I think that a mask mandate is 100% necessary.”

However, questions on a potential vaccine mandate still remain contentious. Officially, the district strongly encourages that students take the vaccine, saying that vaccines could help schools return to in-person learning safely. However, no law requiring students and parents to show their immunization record for the COVID-19 vaccine before entering the school exists. According to Shah, while a mask mandate is fine, a vaccine mandate would pose too many risks alongside it.

“Even if the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the FDA, it’s a relatively new vaccine and so there’s still room for confirmation,” Shah said. “Some parents are still concerned about the long-term effects of the vaccine. I just want vaccines to remain highly recommended by the school.”

For those with younger and/or immunocompromised family members who cannot take a vaccine or are still at risk, a vaccine mandate would potentially help in protecting those individuals from the most severe symptoms of COVID-19, should they contract it. Math teacher Jennifer Macklom, whose children are participating in a medical trial to manufacture a vaccine safe for kids ages 5 – 11, said that the benefits of a Pfizer vaccine mandate outweigh the costs.

“We already require vaccines to go to school,” Macklom said. “I remember missing one unrelated vaccine for my child in kindergarten and the school didn’t allow her in. Mandating the FDA-approved Pfizer vaccine is a fully justifiable next step to ensure that other people don’t spread the virus to my children or those who can’t afford the medical treatment. It’s a pandemic, it’s not just you that’s getting sick.”

Still, prospects of a vaccine mandate remain highly unlikely in Texas, a state where a third wave of the pandemic continues to infect thousands of people per day as of September. Macklom still considers both mask and vaccine mandates as necessary steps towards lessening the impact of the pandemic.

“I think when people cite their right to make their own health decisions, they’re talking about health decisions that aren’t contagious,” Macklom said. “Every person that becomes infected essentially becomes a lab to create a mutated variant that could bypass the immune systems of thousands more if it were to spread. Even if I have a great immune system and can afford contracting the virus, I know that not everyone around me can afford those same privileges.”