SPRING BRANCH, Texas - Houston doctors, who are also parents of children at Spring Branch ISD, say they are still waiting on an answer. More than 150 of them and other local doctors signed a letter to the school board urging the district to issue a mask mandate.
One of the organizers of the letter tells FOX 26 the letter was submitted Saturday and no one from the district has returned her calls. The district went back to school on Monday.
Joshua Feinstein, M.D., is one of the physicians who signed the letter. He has three kids at Frostwood Elementary School and still feels unsure about sending them to school. However, the district is also not offering a virtual option.
"It was much, much harder to send kids back in person this year because of the simple fact there's just not this recognition that masks help and prevent infection," Dr. Feinstein emphasized.
He says his family is debating how to move forward.
"This is an emergency situation and it's just disheartening that the kids aren't put more into the center focus of this," he added.
Dr. Feinstein sees the toll of the delta variant firsthand as an emergency medicine physician.
"As it is, kids have been affected and this is just going to make it worse," he stated.
TROUBLING TREND: Texas sees most COVID-19 hospitalizations in 6 months
The CDC reports hospitalizations among those 0 to 17 years old are at an all-time high. For HHS Region 6, which includes Texas, there is a dramatic spike in the past month.
Dr. Feinstein says his patients are largely under 50-years-old and unvaccinated.
"I can't tell you how many times I've seen folks who are badly off and who I have to be aggressive with and put on different ventilation machinery and they very much are like, 'Can I have the vaccine right now?,'" he recalled.
He believes masks are the easy solution to keep kids under 12-years-old safe and to stop them from infecting others.
"There's no risk to wearing a mask. The worst thing is you have to get a new mask or forget, there's really no downside to wearing a mask," Dr. Feinstein added.
He's also disillusioned with Spring Branch ISD's response.
In a tweet, the district showed the superintendent with kids wearing masks on the first day of school in response to concerns about masks.
Many of the doctors who signed the letter feel this is a public relations stunt and misleading.
"My kids have told me there's not that many kids who are masked up in school. There's even some teachers who aren't masking up," Dr. Feinstein noted.
The district tells FOX 26 in an email, thousands of students and teachers wore masks.
Terry Abbott, Communications Director, states the district's statement issued on Sunday remains their position and added: "We are under a direct order from the governor and the Texas Education Agency not to mandate masks in schools. Until the Texas Supreme Court rules on the matter, that remains our position. I will point out that we had thousands of students and teachers all across Spring Branch ISD wearing masks yesterday on our first day of school. We strongly recommend that students and staff wear masks at school."
Abbott also sent FOX 26 the response from Chris Gonzalez, the board president, to the organizer of the petition from August 11. However, the organizer says she has not gotten a response since submitting the letter on August 14.
The email from Gonzalez dated August 11 reads:
"On behalf of the SBISD Board of Trustees, thank you for your email regarding masks and COVID safety protocols for schools.
As you likely saw, Dr. Blaine issued this letter<https://www.springbranchisd.com/news/read-more/~board/sbisd-post-board/post/letter-from-superintendent-blaine-to-parents-and-guardians-regarding-health-and-safety-for-the-2021-22-school-year> regarding district health & safety protocols today.
An executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott specifically prohibits Spring Branch ISD and all other school districts in Texas from mandating that masks be worn in school. That order is binding, so we cannot issue a mask mandate.
We strongly encourage parents to carefully consider the issue and to make the decision that is in the best interests of their children regarding whether their children will wear a mask at school. We will provide a nurturing and caring environment for all students who choose to wear a mask, and those who do not.
We are taking many additional steps to keep children safe at school as the pandemic continues. Here<https://resources.finalsite.net/images/v1627418026/springbranchisdcom/r2fyolxibsgalkou66jr/StrongStart_Health_Safety_Plan.pdf> is a link to our Health and Safety Guidelines for the new school year.
I recognize that these are difficult times for everyone. I sincerely appreciate your email and hearing your perspective."
Dr. Feinstein feels considering this current public health crisis, the district should push back and move forward with the mask mandate. Houston, Aldine, and Spring independent school districts are among those moving forward with a mask mandate.