A group of parents, several of them live-streaming the meeting, spoke against Carthage ISD’s COVID policies on Monday. Shane Iturbide, standing, called them lawless and not-needed.

A group of Carthage ISD parents say the district’s COVID policies are discriminatory and illegal — and they want things to change.

Several people spoke at Monday’s school board meeting to say that their children were being coerced and bullied into wearing face masks. Some compared the seating of masked kids together and unmasked kids together to that of segregation. In all, they say the district is, in effect, harming children who choose not to wear face masks.

“Now, to the degree that any school in the Carthage ISD is implementing or enforcing these policies, not only are they engaging in lawless, anti-scientific, irrational and foolish behavior — and if that were not enough, any school in the CISD implementing and enforcing these policies are in fact engaging in child abuse,” Shane Iturbide said. “These schools are lying to our children about the personal threat they face from this relatively mild disease, they’re lying to our children about the effectiveness of masks to prevent them from contracting and spreading this relatively mild disease, and they are creating a culture that is hostile to children based on either that parent or that child’s willingness to go along with said lies.”

The district announced Friday it was changing its COVID protocols, ending contract tracing as of this week and reducing quarantine time. The district is continuing to require staff members to wear masks in classrooms and other indoor spaces. Students are also required to wear masks while on school buses.

“Since Labor Day, the rate of COVID infections is dropping, and our student and staff attendance is rising,” Interim Superintendent Jim Dunlap said Friday. “Contact tracing showed that students who developed COVID also had incidents of COVID in the family. Infections occurred primarily outside the school setting. The outlook at school now is becoming more positive.”

Trustees took no action on the group’s request, saying they would look at the information they were provided.

“All of this information we will digest, we will look at and we will continually meet and adjust as we can,” Board President Ben Donald said.

Parents at Monday’s school board meeting thanked the district for ending contract tracing and shortening quarantine times. But they said the district did not go far enough, citing Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates. Nicole Tarpley told trustees that the school nurses were still going off of the district’s old frequently asked questions page, which referenced policies that were outdated as of Dunlap’s Friday statement.

Carthage ISD, officially, “strongly encourages” students to wear masks while at school. Tarpley said there’s an unwritten rule that they must be worn, and that this was segregation. She said the district’s implemented policies are “out of compliance with the laws.”

“CISD parents have taken notice,” she said. “We are here to ask that you bring the policies and even the unwritten policies into compliance.”

Another parent, Jordyn Baze, told trustees that the district’s policies were out of step with state law and Texas Education Agency guidance. She said current policies incentivize the wearing of masks, citing how students who wish to wear face masks are allowed to move away from students who don’t wear them. Parents also said students may feel compelled to wear masks in order to participate in sports — since students wearing face masks don’t have to quarantine as often and some coaches are telling students to wear face masks so they can play.

“What am I as a parent supposed to think when my child walks in to a classroom and is told that you have to sit over there with the unmasked children?” Beverly Hodge asked. “Not only: Why is my child being punished for not only following the governor’s law of our state but the school’s own policies? We are teaching them to be afraid of someone who is not like them or that think differently.”

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Meredith Shamburger serves as the regional editor for Carthage and Kilgore. She has previously worked at the Longview News-Journal, the Marshall News Messenger and The Dallas Morning News. Meredith graduated from Southern Methodist University in 2011.