Dozens of Tarkington residents turned out Tuesday night to address their concerns about Tarkington ISD’s mandate requiring face masks for all students and staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An outspoken member of the community, Dwayne Stovall told the board that the decision of whether or not to wear a mask should be made by parents and students, and not be an arbitrary rule forced upon them by the school district.
After hearing comments from a handful of residents, the Board retreated into executive session for more than an hour. When they returned, each board member was asked to give their opinion of the mandate.
Board Trustee Marcus King told the audience that he was in favor of the mandate remaining because of an obligation he feels to act in the best interests of the school district.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding and unknowns about the risks and rewards of modifying our current procedures. That’s one thing that I hope everyone understand – the risk. After you learn the risk, and know the risk, I can’t make a motion to change our policy. The risks are just too high,” King said.
Paige Bostwick, another board trustee, said she appreciates a parent’s right to chose what is right for their children, but that the obligation remains to do what is best for the students, teachers and employees.
“For me personally, I am not sure this is the hill I want to die on. There might come a day when we have to stand up and do some fighting, but I am not sure this is the day,” she said.
Citing Galatians 5:13 from the Bible, Bostwick said, “My friends, you have chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.”
With the recent death of a family member due to COVID-19, Board Member Kevin Johnson said he does not want to see another member of the community suffer the same fate.
“You may think it’s a farce, but last Tuesday I buried a loved one who died from complications of COVID-19. I don’t want to lose one person in this community, or a teacher or administrator because it was inconvenient or against constitutional rights,” he said.
Attorney Donny Haltom, who serves on the board of trustees, offered a legal opinion should the school district run afoul of the law.
“This school district will be exposed to litigation, whether we win it or lose it. It is definitely crossing someone’s constitutional rights if we take an otherwise healthy child and send him home because he doesn’t have an arbitrary piece of cloth over his face,” Haltom said.
Haltom admitted that he is very concerned about the welfare of the community, including his own family members, because the disease is indeed killing people.
“At the rate this is killing people, there are only going to be 99.6 percent of us left. I am not saying that to be funny. I am saying that to put a number to it. We have already shut down our economy. We have shut down so many things and now we are denying students their constitutional rights to an education,” he said.
When the vote was taken, King, Bostwick and Johnson voted to keep the mandate in place; Haltom, Trustee Kem Arnold and Board President Pete Vandver voted to remove the mandate.
The 3-3 tied vote caused a deadlock, so no action could be taken; therefore the mask mandate will remain.