After one teacher was physically assaulted and another was yelled at in mask disputes during an event ahead of the first day of school, a Texas superintendent is pleading with his community to "be kind."
Tom Leonard, the superintendent of the Eanes Independent School District in Austin, told CNN that his district saw two separate incidents occur Monday, both sparked by masks.
"Obviously there's people who feel on either side of masks all over the country, and that's no different than in my community," he said. "We had some parents who, not many [but] a small number, who were making it difficult, I think, for our teachers to do their jobs."
In one case, a parent repeatedly yelled to a masked teacher, "I can't understand you if you don't take that mask off," Leonard said.
"In another instance, a parent made the unwise decision to physically remove the mask from the teacher and that's not acceptable," he added. "The teacher felt extremely uncomfortable. A principal in the building dealt with the situation. She luckily was close." (Charges have not been filed, CNN reported.)
Leonard addressed his district in a letter after the two incidents, writing, "While many may not agree on the particulars (i.e., masks or no masks), we all want students to be safe and we all should treat each other respectfully."
The superintendent also doubled down on masking up in school.
"Unless the Texas Supreme Court eventually rules this order is superseded by an Executive Order from the Governor, the Travis County Order presently mandates masks in all schools in Travis County," he wrote.
While the district is mandating masks, Leonard added, "the County Order states in essence, that we have no legal methods to enforce the wearing of masks. We will not make our staff the 'mask police' with no authority to enforce the rule."
Speaking to CNN, he elaborated on his point, explaining that all he can do is urge students to wear masks.
"What do [teachers] do if a kid refuses to wear a mask? Suspend them? Suspend them how long? Now, last year we had the authority through [the Texas Education Authority] to actually say, you don't want to wear a mask, you're going to be remote. We had that ability and authority. I don't have that authority now," he said.
Leonard also asked for "respect" for teachers and administrators.
"Let's just leave the mask wars out of the schools. You want to fight those wars, fight them somewhere else, but don't mess with the teachers," he said. "They have a hard enough job right now."
Students in school
As the Delta variant rips through the U.S., tensions have reached a boiling point while students enter yet another semester of learning disrupted by COVID-19.
Last week, protestors gathered in a Tennessee school parking lot after the Williamson County Board of Education approved a mask mandate for students, staff and visitors. According to footage from the scene, anti-mask demonstrators yelled threats to those in favor of the mandate, with one man following another to his car and calling, "We know who you are! No more masks!"
"You can leave freely, but we know who you are," he added. "We will find you … You will never be allowed in public again. You better watch out."
The CDC currently recommends all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools wear masks indoors, even if they are fully vaccinated.