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Round Rock ISD: About 3,300 students opt out of new temporary mask policy on first day of classes

The requirement expires on Sept. 17, but the Board of Trustees could vote to extend the requirement if conditions warrant.

ROUND ROCK, Texas — Most of the 51,000 students in the Round Rock Independent School District complied with the new mask policy, wearing them on the first day of classes on Wednesday.

District officials cited about a 94% compliance rate. That means about 3,300 students opted out of the masking protocol, or 6% of the student population.

At Grisham Middle School, the number of students who opted out was around 28, according to principal Amanda Serna.

"So our community is very supportive of each other, of our school. And so they want to protect each other and they want to be able to support us as we do our jobs here. So it was not surprising at all," Serna said.

In their royal blue and whites, Grisham Middle School cheerleaders greeted students and parents to a new academic year. 

Although it's a fresh start, the persistent, deadly COVID-19 remains.

Zac Oldham is one of the area superintendents for Round Rock ISD.

"We realize there's a lot of anxiety for not only parents but students and staff as well," Oldham said.

Oldham said to help keep the 51,000 or so students safe, they have to wear masks. The protocol requires masks inside buildings and on buses. But the requirement is only voluntary for students and staff.

"I think Round Rock is all about choice, right? And so it's not just in the classroom, but it's just the learning in general," Oldham said.

KVUE spoke to parents about the new protocol. 

One father said, "I don't believe the masks work anyway. So, you know, we've done all this with injections and all this stuff and it doesn't work."

Another mother said, "some mask-wearing, even if it's an 80%, 90%, is better than 20% or 15% if it wasn't even being mandated."

To encourage mask-wearing, Grisham staffers are handing out colored masks that coordinate with the learning profile students are assigned.

Principal Serna showed KVUE an empty area outside that will soon see 20 restaurant-grade patio tables and umbrellas. She said half are donated and half are purchased with money raised. She also Serna said it's a safer option for students.

"So we'll be able to house 80 to 100 students out there in a socially distanced manner," Serna said.

With 94% or so mask compliance on the first day of school, officials are pleased with how the new protocol is rolling out.

On Tuesday, Aug. 17, Round Rock ISD announced that starting on Wednesday, Aug. 18 – the district's first day of school – masks will temporarily be required at all RRISD schools and facilities. The Board of Trustees approved the temporary requirement during a called meeting on Aug. 16.

The requirement expires on Sept. 17, but the Board of Trustees has a regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 16 and could vote to extend the requirement at that time if conditions warrant.

RELATED: LIST: Local school district mask rules for upcoming school year

Students and staff have the option to remove their masks while seated in cafeterias, staff lunchrooms and while outdoors. 

The requirement does not apply during athletics, fine arts and physical education classes unless deemed appropriate by the coach, director or instructor.

"My ultimate responsibility is the health and welfare of our students. We must look at the science, listen to the experts, and do what is right to protect them. As several other superintendents who have made the decision to require masks have said, if we’re going to err, I want to err on the side of caution," Superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez said. "As the public health climate continues to rapidly change, we must be willing to adapt and make decisions to protect our community as we know that masks are an essential tool in reducing the spread of COVID-19."

Parents have the option to opt their child out of the mask requirement if they choose. A form will be provided on the district's website by the end of the day on Aug. 17.

RRISD said it understands that this new requirement may affect families' decisions regarding in-person learning. Families who are currently enrolled in the district's virtual learning program and wish to transition back to in-person instruction may do so by contacting their home campus registrar's office. 

The district said its current COVID-19 protocols are designed with the guidance of local health agencies and in consideration of the current and developing public health situation. RRISD will reassess conditions frequently and adjust accordingly.

WATCH: Masks now required in Pflugerville ISD

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