AUSTIN, Texas — An Eanes ISD parent is accused of physically assaulting a teacher during a "Meet the Teacher" event on Tuesday ahead of the start of the school year.
Superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard confirmed it in a letter to parents and staff.
The statement reads, in part:
Regrettably, there have been a few sad moments, too. A parent physically assaulted a teacher by ripping a mask off her face, others yelling at a teacher to take off her mask because they could not understand what the teacher was saying while her face was covered.
Eanes ISD confirmed on Tuesday, saying it is "following the current Travis County Order, which is in effect and will remain so unless a higher court overturns it. However, when read carefully, the mask mandate is problematic." The superintendent said it states in essence a school district has "no legal methods to enforce the wearing of masks and will not make staff the 'mask police' with no authority to enforce the rule", according to Dr. Leonard.
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Dr. Leonard explains that while many may not agree on the mask mandate, the safety of the student is a priority and everyone should treat each other respectfully.
Dr. Leonard added, "This type of behavior will not be tolerated in Eanes ISD. Our staff are on the front lines of this pandemic; let’s give them some space and grace. Please, I am asking everyone to be kind...do not fight mask wars in our schools."
He did go on thanking all the parents who are supporting Eanes ISD educators as students prepare their return to school.
"The children are watching and learning how we behave, so let’s make the time our students spend in school a joyful and positive experience," Dr. leonard wrote. "It is time to start school. Let’s stay safe, let’s stay calm, and let’s roll."
An anti-mask rally is reportedly expected to take place at 5:00 p.m. Tuesday outside of the Eanes ISD administrative building. According to a poster, it appears to be hosted by Jen Steven who is running for school board.
When asked if it was reported to police, Eanes ISD spokesperson Claudia McWhorter said it was not.
"Out of sensitivity to the campus staff, we are not releasing the name of the school, nor the name of the teachers, " McWhorter said. "As seen by yesterday's behavior, emotions are high right now and the last thing we need is for people to antagonize our staff even more."
In a one-on-one interview with Superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard, he said he was “sad and frustrated” to learn two of his teachers were assaulted by parents at ‘meet the teacher' before the first day of classes on Wednesday.
Dr. Leonard said one teacher was verbally assaulted by a parent that couldn’t hear the teacher because of their face covering and he said another teacher was physically assaulted when a parent ripped a mask off the teacher’s face – a mask meant to protect them and others.
“Even if you don’t believe that, at least respect the person who is wearing the mask,” he said.
While Dr. Leonard said he hasn’t directly spoken with the teachers involved, he said his staff has. They reported the teacher is doing okay because they’re resilient. The district is having “conversations” with the parents involved to say what they did was inappropriate.
“if we have to go down some legal paths, we’ll go down some legal paths,” said Leonard.
Families and school districts have been left to figure out the patchwork of court rulings over if districts can mandate masks. The State Supreme Court side with Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order over the weekend but many school districts have left their mandates in place.
Dr. Leonard said there won’t be any suspensions for those not wearing face coverings and staff won’t act as “mask police” on campus there to enforce.
The district can really encourage masks while the community is in stage five for COVID hospitalizations while healthcare workers are understaffed and overworked.
“Our teachers are not on the frontlines of the mask wars, but they are on the front lines of teaching during a pandemic. Let’s give them a little space and a little grace,” he said.
A day before Eanes ISD returned to 100% in-person school for the first time since the start of the pandemic, a few dozen families were part of a rally outside the administration building against the district’s mask policy.
Organizer Jennifer Stevens, who’s running for a spot on the school board, said “it felt like a gut punch” to hear about the Eanes ISD teacher being assaulted by another parent.
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Over a PA system at the rally, Stevens said she supports the teachers involved in the incident. She’s called for a swift investigation including releasing the police report. A spokesperson for the district said the incident was not reported to the police.
The rally, she said, was in part to show there are other families who support the right to choose how to best protect their kids.
She claims most families in the district are vaccinated.
The COVID-19 vaccine is still not available for those under the age of 12.
“The whole premise of the vaccine was to keep you from dying, not to keep you from getting sick. Kids are going to get sick, adults are going to get sick , we’re going to get the flu, phenomena, viruses are among us, we can’t stop living,” said Stevens.