Mask mandate petition for LHISD gains traction


By Christian Betancourt

A petition originated out of Liberty Hill had gained 262 signatures Friday — just two days after its creation.

An email with the petition was sent to Liberty Hill ISD Trustees, staff, Superintendent Steve Snell, and The Independent.

“We write to you today to implore, beg, and plead with you to implement a mask requirement for all students and staff,” the email states. “The spread of COVID in our schools is clearly significant and will only get worse until someone steps in and does something. We know there will be pushback from the community. We know this is tough. We’ve circulated the following petition in secret for that very reason. But sometimes good leaders have to make tough, thankless decisions for the benefit of everyone.”

Snell told The Independent on Friday that he was aware of the email but had not had a chance to read it.

“That email is sitting in my inbox,” he said. “I’ll get to it as soon as possible. I don’t really have a comment on that right now. I’ll have to go through it and look at it and read it to see what they’re asking.”

The group behind the petition, Families United for Student Safety Liberty Hill, was created as a chapter of FUSS, a non-partisan, grassroots, all-volunteer movement focused on promoting COVID-19 safety in Texas public schools through equitable, evidence-based education, locally-controlled policies, and safety practices, according to its website.

In Liberty Hill, the group and petition were originated by a local parent who The Independent is keeping anonymous because the family’s work status could be affected by revealing an identity.

“We’re hoping that the district will require masks for all students and staff as long as we have this uncontrolled transmission in our community and particularly in our schools,” the organizer said. “I’m really concerned about our community, the students, and even more so the staff. There’s a very, relatively simple solution that is not being taken into consideration because it’s been politicized.”

The organizer added that the petition is not about getting a high number of signatures but rather raising awareness that there are people in Liberty Hill who support a mask mandate.

“(Mask-wearing) it’s widely accepted in the health community strongly recommended by pediatrician’s hospitals and health institutions,” the organizer said. “I certainly understand the challenge that the district faces, given the potential of community backlash. But my hope is that if they see there is a part of the community that feels very strongly that masks are a viable solution that they might feel more empowered to take action.”

Sara Van De Water has a 3-year-old child in a special needs program and a daughter in the 4th grade. She said she signed the petition to be able to keep her children safe while in school.

“The cases are rising rapidly in our district, and short of a district shutdown, masks are the only way to slow the spread and bring our numbers back down,” said Van De Water. “Masks work. Our kids are not able to distance themselves adequately in their schools, so without them, the spread will just continue to increase. On the one hand, I think the district did a great thing by starting out with allowing families to make the choice that is right for their families. However, at this point, it is obvious this isn’t working, and something else needs to be done.”

Van De Water works in healthcare and said she has seen countless patients die from COVID-19.

“We have to remember that while yes, the kids don’t seem to get extremely ill from COVID, their parents, grandparents, and other family members may,” she said. “Our healthcare system is already stretched to the max caring for those in our community that are extremely ill. Being callous about the spread of the virus could cause our hospitals to be even more overwhelmed than they already are.”

For Kelli Smith signing the petition was guided by her concern of the current safety protocols at LHISD.

“Honestly, I’m angry,” she said. “I understand that it is a very divisive topic and that it’s very political here in Liberty Hill. I understand there are strong voices and loud opinions who don’t believe this is real and believe their freedoms are being taken away. I respect their opinions, but couldn’t disagree more as an experienced healthcare professional.” 

Smith said mask-wearing in schools helps mitigate spread around the community as well as the schools.

“Not only do I feel it’s an unsafe situation for our children, but it’s dangerous for our community as well,” she said. “The lack of masking in our schools and other safety practices that were afforded to students last year is leading to increased spread within our schools. The Delta variant is also a whole new ball game as far as contagious potential.”

Smith works at a large hospital in Austin and said she has experienced firsthand how COVID-19 affects people.

“I’m personally tired of people dying unnecessarily,” she said. “COVID is spread by respiratory transmission. Simply throwing more hand sanitizer at the problem will not solve our problems. Vaccination and masking are crucial, and masks work. I can tell you firsthand that healthcare workers are exhausted, short-staffed, and severely burned out. We need our community to work together to help us.”

Smith said she has always been outspoken about COVID-19 in the community and has been ridiculed because of her ideas.

“It’s important enough of a message that it’s something I’m willing to take despite the hurt it causes,” she said. “Although it’s important community member voices are heard, I firmly believe the district should be following the advice from the CDC and (American Academy of Pediatrics) period. I think it’s extremely important to note that being concerned about safety does not mean we don’t support our teachers and district. They are phenomenal, and I’m very appreciative of them and blessed to be a part of this district.”

Shannon Spradling signed because she felt the schools were not doing enough to protect her children and wanted to make sure others knew there are parents in Liberty Hill who support a mask mandate.

“I was glad I signed it,” she said. “I also found out there were a lot more people that were like-minded. I’m always wearing a mask whenever I go into a public place, and most of the time, I’m the only one wearing a mask. We’re not wearing a mask just to protect ourselves. We’re wearing a mask to protect others as well.”

For Spradling, one of the main reasons is the safety of all and not just her children.

“My children are vaccinated, and I still make them wear a mask,” she said. “My children could get COVID and be asymptomatic and spread it to other children that aren’t vaccinated and in turn kill those children. That’s the reality. If anything happens to my children, I have already put it in writing that I will hold (LHISD) responsible. I think that I’m speaking for every parent when I say that.”