PEASTER, Texas — In Peaster Independent School District, there’s fear right now.
Frank and Kjersti Powers are afraid to show their faces on camera over concerns about backlash for criticizing the district’s COVID-19 response.
“For months now there really has been no action,” Kjersti said.
Another concerned Peaster ISD parent didn’t want to share their name.
“I want to be able to have a voice,” the parent said. “I’m not afraid for me personally. I’m afraid for my child.”
Peaster ISD is ignoring Gov. Greg Abbott’s order and Texas Education Agency rules by not wearing masks or face coverings.
Photos show hundreds of people packed together inside a cafeteria at a recent homecoming event.
“If we don’t do anything and it gets way out of hand, they’re back to virtual learning,” the parent said.
Parker County Emergency Management Director Sean Hughes said in a text that he contacted Peaster ISD Superintendent Lance Johnson about a complaint regarding COVID-19 policies.
Hughes said Johnson told him “they were going in a different direction and that they were not going to require masks at that time.”
Then, Hughes said the TEA took over handling the complaint.
A TEA spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement that the enforcement is up to local government and school boards:
“The Texas Education Agency has reviewed the complaint regarding Peaster ISD; at this time, the Agency plans to take no further action on this complaint as many of the concerns noted in it appear to be local in nature. School districts and local health officials are in the best position to make decisions specific to their respective communities. Other issues raised in the complaint should be handled by the local board of trustees, should the local board deem action necessary.”
“If the TEA isn’t going to do anything, why would the school follow suit?” the same anonymous parent quoted above said.
Neither the school board nor Johnson responded to emailed questions about the policies or reporting of cases.
Johnson recently sent an email to parents, saying they won’t report when students and staff test positive.
“We will have, and have had, both staff and students that have caught a plethora of different illnesses, including STREP, the common cold, a stomach virus, Texas allergies, staph infections, and COVID. Illness is inevitable and part of daily life,” Johnson wrote in the email to parents.
“We will not be a platform to drive the fear narrative around any current illness, including COVID, or to create hysteria around any employee or student that may have had an illness, including COVID… We can choose to live and trust, or be paralyzed by fear, but our district will not report those illnesses out, because that is between the individual and their family."
“The fact that they're not being transparent about the issue is really concerning,” Frank Powers said. “You know, when you're being told from state officials that you must, you know, give out these numbers and they're like, ‘No, we're not going to do that either’.”
“It’s not really exciting to hear it from your child as opposed to the people that you’re trusting to look over your children every day,” the anonymous parent said. “Why can they not just send out a letter saying, 'Hey, this is what’s going on,' so that we can continue to make a choice of what we feel is in the best interest for our children?”
The Powers family has a student learning online but says the district is asking their child to come to school in-person to take tests.
“We just don't feel that it's safe whatsoever to take [our child] there to campus to do that,” said Kjersti Powers.
Parents and teachers said cases are increasing, and at least one employee has been hospitalized with the disease.
The fear in Peaster ISD now is what happens if local and state leaders continue to do nothing.
“We’re not coming together as a community to try to fix a problem,” the anonymous parent said. “It’s just a very divisive time for our community.”