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'I think the school has failed at their number one job' | Parents with high-risk children furious with lone maskless, in-person choice

"The school districts asked us for grace last year...I gave grace. Now I want some." Parents with high-risk children furious with lone maskless, in-person choice.

HOUSTON — On Tuesday, Fort Bend County Judge KP George raised the COVID-19 risk level from yellow (moderate risk) to orange (significant risk).  Judge George also announced that data shows 16 percent of current cases are in children under 12 -- too young to be vaccinated.

With schools unable to put mask mandates in place due to an order by Governor Greg Abbott, and very few districts offering an online option, some parents whose children have pre-existing health conditions, feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Cypress mom Aly Fitzpatrick falls into that category. Her 7-year-old twins, Henry and Charlie, were born at just 24 weeks old. They spent months on a ventilator as babies and now live with chronic lung disease.

“I’ve seen mine on a ventilator,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t want to do that again, and I will do anything it takes to make sure that that does not happen.”

This pandemic has been exceptionally isolating for her family.

“They have not seen friends. They have not gone to the museum, gone to a movie, done anything," Fitzpatrick said.

However, Fitzpatrick said the boys did enjoy interacting with their classmates during online learning and did well. But most school districts in Texas, including Cy-Fair ISD, is not offering online classes this year.

Fitzpatrick is furious.

“Parents have no options. We knew the vaccines weren’t going to be available for this age group, and there are a number of things that could’ve been done," FItzpatrick said. “We are being told either send your kids to get educated or keep them home and do your own thing. We are not going to help you at all. How is that fair?”

Although chronic lung disease is rare in children, other common health conditions like asthma, diabetes and obesity, are not. Those, too, are health conditions that can put a person at high risk of COVID-19 complications.

Gov. Abbott has prohibited schools from being able to mandate masks even if they want to. It's something with which pediatrician Dr. Suma Manjunath with Kelsey-Seybold Clinic disagrees.

“I really wish that the schools said children, who are not able to be vaccinated, need to wear a mask which would help everyone,” Dr. Manjunath said.

Over the past two weeks, Dr. Manjunath has seen an uptick in pediatric patients with COVID-19. She said a common misconception is that kids do very well with the virus -- a mentality she warns parents against.

“I would not take COVID lightly. The disease has killed hundreds, even thousands of children," she said.

Dr. Manjunath said the main concerns she’s hearing from parents is wishing their young children could be vaccinated, to worries over kids not being masked in schools.

Although Dr. Manjunath said it’s not ideal for only a few children to be masking in a classroom, the mask will still offer some protection.

“If you are wearing a mask, you are going to get less of a load of the virus compared to not having any barriers," she said.

As for Fitzpatrick, she’s currently petitioning Cy-Fair ISD to allow her children a form of virtual learning on account of their medical conditions. If a board doesn’t grant the permission, she’ll pull the boys out and figure out homeschooling until they’re eligible for a vaccine.

In the meantime, she’s still advocating for masks in schools for the unvaccinated, an online option and for schools to push back on the governor’s mandate.

“I think the schools have failed at their number one job, which is providing a safe environment for kids," Fitzpatrick said.