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Texas school superintendent speaks out after parents accosted 2 teachers over masks

Tom Leonard is the superintendent of the Eanes Independent School District in Austin. (Provided Photo/CNN)

 (CNN) — A school superintendent in Texas is speaking out after a teacher was physically assaulted and another harassed in incidents involving masks.

The incidents happened Monday at a “meet-the-teacher” event ahead of the first day of school on Wednesday, Tom Leonard, the superintendent of the Eanes Independent School District in Austin, told CNN. He said he wrote a letter to the public in response.

“Obviously there’s people who feel on either side of masks all over the country, and that’s no different than in my community,” Leonard told CNN.

“We had some parents who, not many (but) a small number, who were making it difficult, I think, for our teachers to do their jobs.”

One case concerned a masked teacher and a parent who repeated loudly, “I can’t understand you if you don’t take that mask off,” Leonard said, and the teacher felt uncomfortable and reported it.

“In another instance, a parent made the unwise decision to physically remove the mask from the teacher and that’s not acceptable,” he said. “The teacher felt extremely uncomfortable. A principal in the building dealt with the situation. She luckily was close.”

No charges have been filed, a decision that would be up to the teachers, Leonard said. But it puts the teachers in an awkward situation, because they want to maintain a good relationship with their students’ families.

The superintendent said that if there are repeated incidents, they could file a no trespass order to keep the parent off the campus.

The superintendent felt he needed to say something

“We had more and more conversations administratively, and I felt I had to say something,” Leonard said.

The letter described the incidents and reiterated the county’s position on masks in schools.

“Unless the Texas Supreme Court eventually rules this order is superseded by an Executive Order from the Governor, the Travis County Order presently mandates masks in all schools in Travis County,” the letter said.

“No matter where the laws ultimately land, for the good of the community during this stage of the pandemic, we will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which ‘recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.’”

“The kids are watching what we do and we need respect,” Leonard told CNN regarding the letter. “Let’s just leave the mask wars out of the schools. You want to fight those wars, fight them somewhere else, but don’t mess with the teachers. They have a hard enough job right now.”

Mask mandates may not be the real problem

However, Leonard lamented that it’s not the issue of mask mandates that’s the problem — it’s enforcing them.

“What do (teachers) do if a kid refuses to wear a mask? Suspend them? Suspend them how long? Now, last year we had the authority through (the Texas Education Authority) to actually say, you don’t want to wear a mask, you’re going to be remote. We had that ability and authority. I don’t have that authority now,” he told CNN.

All the district can do is highly encourage mask-wearing, Leonard said. About 90-95% of students in their elementary schools are wearing masks. In the high schools, he estimated 50-60% are wearing masks.

“We’re going to try to do everything we can do to help our doctors and our nurses get through this wave and a next wave if it comes, but we’re going to keep things as normal for kids as we can, and we’re going to be an oasis for kids,” he said.