Dear Montgomery ISD Community,
I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you the direction Montgomery ISD is taking as it relates to Governor Abbott’s recent announcement regarding the required use of face masks or coverings. During our March Regular Board of Trustees meeting this evening, the board adopted a Resolution that maintains the district’s current health protocols through the end of this school year. The Resolution also authorizes the Superintendent to make masks optional beginning May 31, 2021, pending future state law or regulations allow for this to occur. While each of us on the board has our own strong opinions on this issue, I’m thankful that we addressed it respectfully. We all agree that providing our students with an excellent in-person educational experience by keeping schools open and limiting the number of required COVID-19 close contact quarantines must remain our top priority.
It was just over a year ago when our district shut down, for what we thought would be a brief period. Instead, like so many districts across our state and nation, our students never returned to school after Spring Break in March 2020. Our board takes great pride in the fact that our district has been a leader in trying to balance various state regulations while attempting to return to a sense of normalcy for our students and families. We were among the first districts in the nation to return for in-person instruction in August 2020, and we have not required our pre-K through 3rd-grade students to wear masks, as many other districts have done. Additionally, we are all proud and appreciative that our number of students choosing in-person learning as their preferred method of instruction has grown to 94%. Across the state, the average number of students choosing in-person learning is still less than 60%. This is a testament to the resilience and grit of the Montgomery community, especially our teachers and campus staff who have tried their best to make 2020 and 2021 as normal as possible for our students. Our students have inspired me and others with their determination and kindness even though they have seen traditions upended and have dealt with tremendous amounts of stress and loss in some of the most formative years of their youth.
Continuing with our current health protocols, which follow the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) guidelines and requires all staff and students in grades 4 to 12 to wear masks or facial coverings was not an easy decision. It’s important to note that Governor Abbott’s recent executive order, which lifted the statewide mask mandate for Texas’s bars, restaurants, and businesses on March 10, delegated mask requirements for public school districts to be determined by TEA. Following the Governor’s order, TEA directed school districts to continue operating with existing mask requirements in place. However, TEA did allow local school districts to consider lifting the mask mandate through an official action of the board of trustees. The Governor and TEA called for school boards to consider the guidance of local health authorities in making this decision. The Montgomery County Health District voiced strong support for continuing with mask protocols for the remainder of this academic year.
It’s also important to note that, while TEA did allow school boards to consider modifications to mask requirements, it did not make any changes to rules regarding close contact tracing and mandated quarantining when someone on a school campus tests positive for COVID-19. Today, when a student or faculty member tests positive, there are very few individuals having to be quarantined, as everyone in grades 4-12 is required to wear a mask. The rules established by TEA are clear – if all individuals are wearing a mask, close contact rules require only the person who tested positive to be quarantined. Since TEA made no adjustments to its close contact rules, if masks were to become optional, and the person testing positive for COVID-19 was not wearing a mask, all individuals who were within six feet for longer than 15 minutes would have to be quarantined. This is true even if every other individual was wearing a mask, as TEA indicates close contact rules can only be impacted by all parties wearing masks. It is also true that the CDC recently adjusted its close contact protocols to 3 feet of contact. As of yet, TEA has not adjusted its close contact protocols.
By allowing school districts to consider removing mask requirements with existing close contact tracing protocols in place, TEA’s guidance puts school districts in a no-win situation. Districts were never consulted in the implementation of the mask mandate. Asking districts to act now to remove a mandate they had no involvement in forming places local leaders in an unnecessarily contrived situation. Making masks optional without changing close contact rules would lead to a significant increase in the number of students and staff having to be quarantined and would negatively impact our ability to keep schools open and student activities thriving. This, along with guidance from the Montgomery County Health District, is why the overwhelming number of school districts in our region and state are continuing with their current mask-wearing protocols.
District administration consulted with campus principals, PTO/PTA presidents and student leaders, and issued a staff survey regarding the continued wearing of masks in school and district facilities. The overall consensus across each of these groups was, while everyone looks forward to the day when masks will no longer be required, the district’s focus should remain on keeping schools open for in-person instruction and working to ensure extracurricular activities, sports, and graduation ceremonies can successfully occur through the remainder of this school year.
With this in mind, the board also took action on a resolution authorizing the Superintendent to seek responsible modifications from TEA regarding its close contact procedures. There is agreement among our board that if TEA were to make reasonable changes to close contact requirements regarding individuals within a defined radius wearing masks, we could consider a different approach to masks within our school district. Several board members and I have been in communication with local elected officials and are working with TEA and other agencies to advocate for these changes.
The board was also pleased to hear that the district administration was already developing plans to move further toward a sense of normalcy in our schools by opening up campuses to parents and volunteers and our mentor program. Our superintendent, Dr. Heath Morrison, has been working with principals, PTA/PTO presidents and student leaders to have open graduations and award ceremonies, proms, field days, athletic and extracurricular events, and the return of parents, volunteers and mentors in schools. These are encouraging and welcome next steps to returning to the normal activities we want back in our schools.
I know this decision to continue with current mask protocols until May 31 will disappoint many in our community. Please know that your school board members have spent the last few weeks hearing very passionate, compelling opinions on all aspects of this issue. My fellow board members and I truly value so many individuals sharing their voices. What ultimately drove our actions was the focus on keeping our schools, programs and activities open. We want our school district to be able to finish this school year with as many of the normal end-of-year activities as possible. We will continue to advocate that TEA make sensible modifications to its close contact rules so we are not faced with only being able to consider making masks optional by accepting nonsensical rules which will require significant increases of individuals having to be quarantined.
Thank you for your understanding and support as we work diligently to finish this school year strong. Keeping schools open and ensuring high-quality in-person learning can occur has been and will remain our focus. Our community, our state and our nation have been through a lot lately. I ask that MISD staff, families and community members continue to support each other and work together as we emerge from the past year with faith, hope and anticipation for the 2021-2022 school year.
MISD Board of Trustees
Montgomery ISD Trustees Adopt Board Resolution on COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation
Trustees urge state to prioritize school district employees in next round of vaccine distribution
Montgomery ISD Trustees adopted a Board Resolution during their regular February meeting urging Texas Governor Greg Abbott to prioritize employees of school districts as COVID-19 vaccinations become more widely available statewide.
The Resolution requests that the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP), which is a state-appointed panel of subject matter experts charged with developing vaccine allocation strategies, include school district employees in the definition of “Frontline Workers” for purposes of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility. It also acknowledges the critical role school district personnel across Texas have played to ensure in-person instruction, which has been a state requirement during the 2020-21 school year, could occur during the pandemic. Currently, nearly 95% of Montgomery ISD students have selected in-person instruction as their preferred learning method.
“Since day one of this challenging school year, our teachers and school district staff have been heroes for our students,” Board President Matt Fuller said. “Safely opening schools for traditional in-person learning was a priority for many Montgomery ISD families, and our entire district staff has answered the call-to-action to make this possible. We are asking our state leaders to acknowledge the efforts of school district personnel by providing them the option to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”
The Resolution states that the district would respect the personal rights of its employees to make their own decision to take the vaccine should it become available to them. Montgomery ISD joins school districts across Texas that have made similar requests to the Governor, either through a letter or official Board action. The full Board Resolution can be read here.
February 1-5, 2021 was School Counseling Week, which is recognized across the nation as a week to celebrate and appreciate the contributions of school counselors. Montgomery ISD’s school counselors were recognized by trustees for their hard work and dedication to students during this year. Trustees were also shown a video highlighting the work of the district’s school counselors. The video can be viewed here.
“The vital role our counselors play on campuses has been magnified during this unprecedented school year, which has presented many new challenges for students,” Board Trustee Shawn Denison said. “The duties of our school counselors have expanded well beyond the traditional academic guidance role. School counselors also support the social and emotional well-being and development of students. We were excited to recognize them for their dedication to our students.”
During the meeting, trustees also approved a Resolution approving employee compensation during the district’s inclement weather closure from Feb. 16 through Feb. 19.
“Last week was extraordinarily challenging for our families and district staff,” Superintendent Dr. Heath Morrison said. “Many of our staff members are still dealing with the aftermath of the inclement weather we experienced in our region. Ensuring they are properly compensated while the district was closed provides at least some peace of mind during this difficult time.”
Morrison applauded district and City of Montgomery personnel who made it possible for Madeley Ranch Elementary School to serve as a warming shelter for local families. He also expressed appreciation for district maintenance staff who worked through the weekend to ensure schools would be ready to open for in-person instruction on Monday, Feb 22.
“Our MISD Police Department staff, Maintenance team and City of Montgomery rose to the occasion last week for our families,” Morrison said. “We were thankful that we could offer the community a warm and safe place to stay at Madeley Ranch Elementary School during the severe weather, and, we were grateful we could safely re-open all schools on Monday. This was a team effort.”
Montgomery ISD Board of Trustees Adopts 2021 Legislative Platform
Board also approves 2021-22 academic calendar and extends Superintendent’s contract
During its January regular meeting, the Montgomery ISD Board of Trustees adopted a district legislative platform for the 87th Texas Legislature. Texas lawmakers convened at the State Capitol in Austin for their 140-day Regular Legislative Session on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
The Montgomery ISD legislative platform focuses on school finance reform, assessment and accountability, additional support from the state as school districts continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, local control and school safety.
“Our board is ready and eager to work with state lawmakers as they seek to address the growing educational demands of Texas children,” Trustee Mike Hopkins said. “Every proposed education policy change at the State Capitol will have an impact on classroom instruction and student achievement, so we want to ensure the voice of our community is heard as lawmakers consider legislation this year.”
The MISD legislative platform requests the legislature maintain funding set in House Bill 3 during the 2019 legislative session and continue to explore improvements to the methods by which Texas public schools are funded. House Bill 3 made a number of enhancements to the state’s Foundation School Program, including an increase to the state’s basic allotment, funding for full-day pre-kindergarten, an expansion of Career and Technical Education program funding and increases to special funding weights and allotments.
“This session, lawmakers can build upon the momentum and progress they made in 2019 as it relates to reforming our state’s outdated method for funding public schools and lessening the burden the current system places on local property taxpayers,” Board President Matt Fuller said. “Educators across the state have courageously stepped up for our students during an incredibly challenging school year. Now, we’re urging our elected officials to do the same.”
Preserving local control in addressing student and community needs is also included in the board’s legislative platform. Trustees are requesting that flexibilities provided to districts designated as a “District of Innovation” be maintained.
“School districts are considered ‘independent’ in Texas,” Trustee Trey Kirby said. “Our legislative platform prioritizes the importance local decision-making to ensure that each action taken by our board meets and serves the best interest of the unique needs of our students, staff and community.”
Also during their meeting, trustees adopted the district’s academic calendar for the 2021-22 school year.
The 2021-22 academic calendar was developed in conjunction with the District Advisory Committee (DAC), which is comprised of over 40 teachers, staff members, parents, and community members. Five initial calendar options were developed by the DAC. After receiving input from across the district’s 10 campuses, the DAC narrowed the calendar options down to two in December, which were presented to the public for input in the form of a survey. There were over 3,500 responses to the survey, with 57% of respondents preferring the calendar option adopted by the board of trustees. The first day of the 2021-22 school year will be Thursday, Aug. 12.
Trustees also voted to extend the contract of Superintendent Dr. Heath Morrison by one year, through August 2025. The terms outlined in the Superintendent’s contract remain the same.
“From the moment Dr. Morrison arrived in Montgomery, he has shown his commitment to this community,” Trustee Linda Porten said. “While he didn’t request any changes to the terms of his existing contract, we believe this extension conveys a unified support from the board for the work being performed under his leadership.”
Trustees commended Dr. Morrison for his work during his time of entry as Superintendent, which included listening, learning, and engaging with the community. They also applauded his efforts to create greater transparency and improve district communication with parents, staff and stakeholders.
“As a board, we’re extremely excited about the direction the district is headed under the leadership of Dr. Morrison,” Trustee Laurie Turner said. “By extending the Superintendent’s contract, we want to send the community a message of confidence and board unity. Together, as a board, district and community, we’re poised to do incredible things for Montgomery ISD students and staff.”