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Austin Independent School District (AISD) — the fifth largest district in Texas — is urging parents to have their kids double-up on masks in preparation for their return from winter break, according to an email obtained by The Daily Wire.
The district, which currently has a mask mandate in place in defiance of the governor, sent out the email on December 29.
“With Austin ISD resuming classes as scheduled after the Winter Break, staff and families can help prevent the spread of the Omicron variant by getting boosted this week, getting tested at one of our 11 hubs beginning Monday, Jan. 3, and by double-layering masks that fit well on Wednesday when classrooms re-open,” the email said.
“If you can’t find an N95 mask, Dr. Walkes says wearing two well-fitting masks also increases your safety,” it also read.
Dr. Desmar Walkes, who is referenced in the district-wide email, serves as the medical director in Austin. She was appointed in May and “is responsible for clinical oversight of medically related services rendered by Austin Public Health and the more than 300 licensed professionals,” according to a government memo.
One father expressed his frustration with the district’s guidance to The Daily Wire. He wonders how long AISD will enforce restrictions that he views as unreasonable.
“It’s hard enough to keep little kids wearing one mask, how are we supposed to keep them wearing two at a time?” said the parent, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Where does this stop? Are three masks next? These poor kids just want to learn and see their friends, they don’t deserve to be pawns in the Left’s agenda.”
While AISD told parents to double-mask their children, apparently based on guidance from Walkes, many public health experts have sounded the alarm on the speculative phenomenon.
An April 2021 study partially funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that double masking may protect individuals in specific situations. However, some researchers notably criticized the study as “not backed by research,” according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at University of Minnesota.
“It tells people it’s going to be fine, that you can now wear a cotton bandanna over a procedure mask, and you’re going to be protected,” CIDRAP research consultant Lisa Brosseau said regarding the CDC study, describing how it mischaracterizes the importance of “filter efficiency” and the many variables at play in avoiding contracting COVID. “But if you’re going to spend any period of time in a space wearing a cotton mask over a procedure mask, time will eventually betray you. The small amount of protection you will get will get negated.”
AISD put forth a mask mandate on campuses and in district offices in September. The move came on the heels of Governor Greg Abbott’s (R-TX) order banning mask mandates in state schools. Austin joined Dallas Independent School District and Houston Independent School District in opposing the rule.
Officials in Dallas County and San Antonio challenged the governor’s order with lawsuits, as did nonprofits, such as Southern Center for Child Advocacy — as reported by the Austin American-Statesman. Unions have been a driving force in Texas in opposing the anti-mask law, as the Statesman also noted.
AISD did not immediately respond to a Daily Wire request for comment, nor did a spokesperson for Walkes.
Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, whose congressional district represents a portion of Austin suburbs, told The Daily Wire he thinks AISD is “trying to be outwardly obnoxious with proving how liberal they can be simply to disagree with what any Republican says — as opposed to trying to follow a sound science.”
“This smacks of politics,” Sessions also said.
Children in Austin have fared extremely well against the virus. According to the latest data reported by Austin Public Health, children ages 1 to 9 comprise 5.9 percent of cases and ages 10 to 19 comprise 11.1 percent.
There are no reported deaths for anyone under the age of 20 in Austin — and those ages 20 to 29 make up 1.4 percent of fatalities (17 of 1,218). In the state of Texas as a whole, 82 kids have died ages 10 to 19 and there have been 23 fatalities for those ages 1 to 9. Fourteen have died under the age of 1.
There has continued to be sharp backlash concerning the idea of masking children in the classroom. Pediatricians and prominent medicine professors, such as Dr. Marty Makarty of Johns Hopkins University, have argued that children are extremely low-risk transmission-wise and can be psychologically harmed. As Makarty and H. Cody Meissner, a professor of Pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine and a former Food and Drug Administration employee, wrote in The Wall Street Journal:
The possible psychological harm of widespread masking is an even greater worry. Facial expressions are integral to human connection, particularly for young children, who are only learning how to signal fear, confusion, and happiness. Covering a child’s face mutes these nonverbal forms of communication and can result in robotic and emotionless interactions, anxiety and depression. Seeing people speak is a building block of phonetic development. It is especially important for children with disabilities such as hearing impairment.
“Don’t even ask — wear a mask,” Austin ISD nonetheless wrote to parents in its email.
Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of the PAC Save Austin Now and chairman of the Travis County GOP in the city, concurred with Sessions on the issue of masking.
“AISD leaders spent much of 2020-2021 needlessly shutting down schools and setting kids back educationally and socially, all while placing undue burdens on parents,” Mackowiak told The Daily Wire. “Now they plan to spend 2022 issuing absurd double mask mandates and continuing to scare parents.”
“Kids need to be in school,” he added. “Their actual risk of COVID is statistically extremely low and death rates among children are stunningly low. Enough is enough.”
According to the father who spoke to The Daily Wire, the district is trying to appease the teachers union. It was the union that notably told teachers last summer to refuse to teach in person.
“So far AISD has proven that their main concern is satisfying their teachers’ union, not providing the best education environment for the district’s children,” he said, adding, “This new policy is just absurd.”
Send story tips to Gabe Kaminsky at [email protected].