By Caroline Vandergriff

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM)One of the first school districts in North Texas to require masks in defiance of Governor Greg Abbott’s order announced it is dropping the mandate.

Starting Thursday, Oct. 28, masks will be optional at all campuses in Crowley ISD, which covers parts of the southwest Fort Worth area.

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“I would prefer her to have a mask on,” said Belen Badejo, whose daughter attends an elementary school in CISD. “I’ve already had I think three notices about cases in her classroom alone.”

She’s not the only parent who is feeling uneasy about the change.

“My kids have really bad allergies and they have asthma, so I just feel if they get COVID it’s going to be worse for them,” said Jessica Alvarado, who has two kids in a CISD elementary school.

In a video message posted to the school’s website, Superintendent Dr. Michael McFarland said he is choosing to lift the mask mandate now after seeing a significant decrease in the number of COVID-19 infections among students and staff over the past six week.

Data from the district shows cases peaked in September, with nearly 300 students testing positive. That number is down to 24 this week.

“As we review our pandemic protocols, alongside our academic assessment results and student enrollment numbers, we see proof that our strategies to safely educate students in a high quality way have been successful,” said Superintendent McFarland.

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The superintendent also cited the declining number of new cases in Tarrant County and the improvement in the hospital capacity for the decision.

“We certainly believe that the worst is over,” said Rajesh Nandy, professor of biophysics and epidemiology at the UNT Health Science Center.

Nandy says the current trends are encouraging but continuing to take preventative measures is important to prevent another surge in the spring, when overall immunity could start waning.

“So the critical thing is that by next spring, we want a lot of kids to be vaccinated,” Nandy said.

Even with masks becoming optional, McFarland strongly encourages students and staff to choose to wear them.

“It is also clear that we should choose to get vaccinated when possible, for the common good of others,” he said. “I am still challenging everyone to take care of each other and to practice personal responsibility.”

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CISD plans to continue to monitor key metrics and listen to the advice of medical experts as it transitions to the ‘Masks Encouraged’ policy on Thursday.

Caroline Vandergriff