Parents share concerns about masks, bus safety, library books


By Christian Betancourt

School trustees listened as parents expressed their concerns Monday about the district’s protocol on wearing masks, bus safety, library books, and the dress code. However, officials followed their policy of not engaging with speakers during the public comments.

Trustees heard from three members of the public.

Cindy Hauser addressed the board about literature and COVID mandates.

“We chose this district because it’s more traditional and conservative, and we want that for our children,” she said. “We’ve seen right here, neighboring school districts where the school board allowed pedophilia in the school library. Forever changing children because they can’t unread what they read. I can assure you that this community will not tolerate this type of literature. Every parent here deserves the right to see what is going on in our schools’ buildings at all times. Your faculty desperately needs and deserves to have volunteers in your buildings.”

Hauser praised the school for not mandating mask-wearing but asked them to go further by not encouraging employees to wear them.

“I can see that for a school district trying to please everyone and hoping to create the best scenario for students and faculty, highly suggesting facemasks is an understandable way to think,” she said. “You’re doing what is right. However, it is a harassing way of communicating and using your power in a threatening manner. A decision to continue to suggest mask-wearing from a position of power does a few things. It makes your staff feel as if they need to comply to please you and remain in good standing with their superiors. It also confuses our children and creates fear.”

Antonio Cañas addressed bus training requirements while referencing a traffic accident involving a school bus near Lively Ranch neighborhood.

“I would like to know what kind of involvement and influence the district has when it comes to (traffic) lights … in communities like the one where I live,” he said. “We need a light. My kids need a light, and you guys know we need a light. Also, I want to know what the procedure is for bus drivers. Most companies have a no left-turn policy for intersections that don’t have a light.”

Michael Connaker spoke to the Board about the dress code, suggesting that limits to hairstyles and piercings are over-reaching.

“Hairstyling along with ear piercings is a choice between child and parent on whether the child should be allowed to have them,” he said. “The current policy by LHISD is overreaching and infringing upon the decision-making settings and boundaries by parents. LHISD is effectively controlling the child outside of the school as unlike articles of clothing, hairstyles and ear piercings cannot simply be changed when going to and from school.”

Connaker added that not allowing children to express themselves could cause severe mental issues in the long run.

“My daughter … loved having a different hair color, and that made her very confident. Having to change that was very hurtful to her self-expression,” he said. “Work with parents such as myself to revise the current school dress policies so that these children can freely express themselves.”

Later in the meeting, Superintendent Steve Snell provided a general update addressing some of the complaints aired by parents. He said the schools and staff are reviewing the books available for children in the libraries. He said a consultation with the Texas Department of Transportation is in motion to plan a traffic light at Lively Ranch, and spoke about the incident with the school bus.

“Our police department is investigating the other wreck,” Snell said. “You all saw the news (on TV). We have some disagreements, obviously, with the accuracy of that report. Any time our drivers are in an accident or are perceived to have caused an accident, there is training that takes place to improve their skills.”

Travis Motal, Director of Secondary Education and Director of Safety and Security, gave the Board an update about COVID-19 reporting and policies since their last meeting in August. Some of the updates included: a clarification to wait at home if pending a COVID-19 test result, a timeline of isolation for positive cases starting 10 days after a positive test result, and updated data charts of positive, active, and recovered cases within the district. He also said the district has contacted vendors to offer testing at the schools.

“We are cautiously optimistic about our COVID numbers right now,” Motal said. “We are continuing our sanitation process as much as we can without overdoing it. We strongly encourage layers of protection. We’re going to be transparent about our data.”

During the Board’s regular business Monday, Trustees heard from Assistant Superintendent Todd Washburn about the possibility for virtual learning now that state funding has become available. He said about 345 of the 599 parents surveyed about their interest in virtual learning responded they were not interested, while 221 wanted the option to be available.

Washburn said only elementary schools were surveyed because the higher grades would represent a more significant challenge due to more demanding staffing requirements. Snell added that the district already faces staffing difficulties, and the legislation adopted prohibits teachers from teaching both virtual and in-person classes, thus creating the need for additional teachers. Washburn said the virtual education option is still in the planning process.

Also Monday, the Board heard an update from Casey Sledge, Program Manager for bond funds administration, who said that the 2018 bond program has spent about $93.1 million of the $98 million available and hoped to finish the projects without spending the total amount. He said the 2021 bond program, which includes 11 projects, has used about $180 million of the $491 million available. He said the projects continue as scheduled with no delays or extra cost expected.

Trustees also approved:
– A contract with JPH Land surveying in the amount of $84,000 for surveying services for possible land acquisition as part of the 2021 Bond Program.
– The purchase of one special needs bus and three general education buses using funds from the 2021 Bond Program from Longhorn Bus Sales L.L.C
– Allowing Samco Capital to sell the second round of bonds for $121 million that would have to be paid in 40 years. SAMCO Senior Managing Director Duane Westerman said bonds would not be sold until 2022, but approving the sale now would allow them to be able to sell quickly whenever the market had a favorable yield.
– Upgrades to high school softball and baseball batting cages funded from the excess 2018 bond in the amount not to exceed $574,000 to Hellas Construction. Sledge said the amount requested would be the maximum amount but expected the batting cages to cost less and would be ready by January before baseball and softball seasons start.

Prior to the Board’s regular business, Trustees and staff met outside the Administration Building to celebrate awards and recognitions.