SPRING BRANCH, Texas - Some Spring Branch ISD parents say they are scrambling to figure out how they will school their kids this year.
They have pulled their kids out of the district's elementary schools because they feel there is a lack of COVID-19 precautions while pediatric cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.
A mother, whose son was enrolled in kindergarten, describes it as the hardest decision she and her husband have made since becoming parents and the worst day of the pandemic for her.
She and several other parents say the decision was made after attending the meet the teacher events last week.
"It looked like COVID was over, basically," recalled Thomas Herpin. He had two kids enrolled at Wilchester Elementary School.
"Everybody sort of pushed through some choke points, high degrees of congestion. Once inside it was clear that we were by far in the minority with masks," he added.
The final straw he says was seeing his kids' teachers without masks.
"I'd really held out hope that they would be modeling positive behavior for the kids," Herpin told FOX 26.
Lauren Young says her daughter noticed her teacher wasn't wearing a mask at Valley Oaks Elementary School.
"My daughter commented right afterward. She was like, 'I thought she was going to be wearing a mask' and I'm like, 'I'm so sorry.' I don't know what to say to that," Young said.
She adds her daughter has a heart condition that puts her at high risk of severe illness from a viral infection.
Giuliana Castellanos says her son also had a condition that makes him vulnerable. She recalls going to Frostwood Elementary School to meet his teacher who was unmasked.
"I went to my car and I started crying and I realized this was a decision that I had to make," Castellanos said.
The district is pushing back citing Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning mask mandates. However, the parents say masks are only one part of their concern.
They say the district has not implemented other safety measures like it did last year, including eating lunch in classrooms and social distancing.
"They are clearly stating that they are not going to follow the CDC. They are not going to listen to the experts and they're going to put the health of the children first," Castellanos emphasized.
The district is also not offering a virtual option.
The parents say they are disheartened and disappointed with how the district and school leaders are responding, or not responding, to their concerns.
Young says she has yet to hear back from the principal at Valley Oaks.
"It's very upsetting. This week has been total turmoil. And my daughter is asking me every day when am I going to school and I don't have an answer for her," she said.
In response, Spring Branch ISD sent the following statement to FOX 26:
"It is very important to note that our enrollment at Spring Branch ISD is going up, not down. We have more than 32,000 students in class and learning every day. Clearly, the overwhelming majority of our students and parents are excited about and engaged in the new school year.
Masks are strongly encouraged in Spring Branch ISD schools, but we cannot mandate that masks be worn. We have been prohibited from doing so by the Governor of Texas and the Texas Education Agency. In addition, the attorney general of Texas has warned that leaders of school districts that defy the governor’s order will be prosecuted.
We have extensive and strong health and safety protocols in place to help protect students and staff, and we will continue to follow those protocols. Those protocols can be found here."