As legal wrangling continues, more districts step up for safety with mask requirements

  • With millions more kids now in classrooms, Delta variant cases rise dramatically.
  • ​TEA revises public safety guidelines on reporting cases.
Ken Paxton ghosted behind his online district list

This week, Attorney General Ken Paxton attempted to intimidate school districts—who defied his order prohibiting mask mandates—by listing them on the web, threatening to sue them, and encouraging people to notify him of “violators.” The 70 districts listed as of this morning are a small fraction of the some 1,200 Texas districts overall, but they represent many large urban and suburban schools that make up the bulk of the state’s student population.

The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday denied Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to intervene incounty mask mandates issued in Harris and Travis counties. The court made its decision based on a procedural technicality, not the actual facts of the case. As the reasoning for their denial of Abbott’s request, the court cited the fact that Attorney General Ken Paxton had filed his request with the Texas Supreme Court without first having gone to the lower Court of Appeals. The request will presumably now be made to the appeals court.

TEA announced yesterday in its updated public health guidance that mask provisions will not be enforced “as the result of ongoing litigation. Further guidance will be made available after the “court issues are resolved.”

At the National level, President Joe Biden directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona “to take additional steps to protect our children” from governors banning mask mandates or penalizing districts that enact them. Cardona said he would ask the U.S Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office to investigate states that block local mask requirements.

Regardless of the legal battles, the fact is that districts are already seeing significant spikes in COVID-19 infections related to the highly transmissible Delta variant. Some rural districts are facing closures, while others are seeing the highest number of single-day positive cases over the course of the pandemic.

Texas AFT continues to encourage mask use and allow local decision-making on requirements to allow districts to respond quickly to unsafe conditions.

New TEA release clarifies guidance requiring more virus notifications

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently released a new public health guidance to school districts. This guidance mostly acts as a clarification of previously released guidance for the new school year.

One of the most notable clarifications is that school districts are now required to notify teachers, staff, and families of all students in a classroom or extracurricular group if any student, teacher, or staff member that has interacted with that group tests positive for COVID-19. Previous guidance from the TEA did not specifically require school districts to notify the families of students in a cohort with a positive COVID-19 test. Only families of students in the cohort are required to be notified of a positive case within their cohort, not the entire school.

As noted above, the TEA has clarified that they will not be enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order forbidding mask mandates in school districts. The guidance requires schools to prohibit any student or staff member who tested positive or is suspected of being actively sick with COVID-19 from attending school in person. The guidance does not include information on pay for staff, should they have to quarantine for any reason.

Read the full TEA Public Health Guidance here.