About 8% of Plano ISD students exempt from the mask mandate, including for philosophical reasons

About 8% of Plano ISD students will not have to wear a mask to school – despite a district-wide mandate – because their parents have requested an exemption.

The Plano school board voted earlier this week to require masks inside schools, but left a loophole for parents opposed to sending their children to class with face covers.

Parents were allowed to exempt their child for medical, religious or philosophical reasons, by filling out a brief online form. About 3,800 students chose not to wear masks for various reasons, the district said Friday evening. Plano ISD serves more than 50,000 children.

On Friday, a district spokesperson could not provide a breakdown of the number of exemptions due to philosophical versus medical reasons.

About 20 schools had an exemption rate of 10% or more. In two primary schools, 1 in 5 children are exempt from wearing a mask, according to a district scorecard.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking inside schools, regardless of vaccination status. More than half of public school students are too young to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an executive order banning school districts from requiring masks, but several districts are flouting his directive. The start of this school year coincided with a peak in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant.

Plano’s mask tenure – which will last until September 24 or whenever there is a ruling in the ongoing legal battle between local leaders and Abbott – came after hours of discussions with district attorneys and passionate appeals from parents on both sides of the issue.

PISD administrators voted 6-1 on the mandate Monday, giving parents until Wednesday night to file an exemption request online.

Board chairman David Stolle told the meeting that the district is facing “a situation of steep growth that we cannot ignore”. Administrators reviewed case data showing more students have tested positive so far this year than in the district’s previous peak.

On Wednesday, the administration of Elementary Hedgcoxe sent parents an email with the subject line “Mask exemption opportunity”. In this school, 12% of the pupils will not be obliged to wear a mask.

The district’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 274 confirmed student cases – but that was as of August 22. Administrators said dozens of other tests have come back positive since then.

Garland ISD also allows parents to submit mask exemptions on behalf of their students, according to an email sent to families Friday.

The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and conversation on pressing education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network , Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab journalism.

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