Districts revolt against governor’s order on masks

Last week we saw a flurry of lawsuits and legal maneuvers as major urban school districts began openly defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s prohibition of mask mandates. Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, and Dallas ISDs are now requiring masks on campuses for all students, staff, and visitors. While county judge orders on mask mandates in Dallas, Harris, Travis, and Bexar counties would affect all districts in those counties, some districts are enacting mask requirements, while others are waiting for clarification from courts. 

We are also starting to see mask requirements in smaller districts like La Joya, Del Valle, and San Marcos. Many other school districts have openly stated they are considering the move. The requirements are related to the surge of Delta variant COVID-19 infections and alarming rises in hospitalizations, including significantly more unvaccinated children, with a resulting shortage of hospital beds.

Meanwhile, Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are taking counties and districts to court to block the mask requirements, while some districts and counties are preparing to sue Abbott over his executive order. Paxton indicated he would seek to uphold the governor’s orders at the Texas Supreme Court. And late Sunday, that court issued a stay on the mask mandates in Dallas and Bexar counties. Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said his district’s mask requirements would continue because the ruling wasn’t specific to the district. Bexar County officials also are continuing their mask mandate. 

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said districts must continue to hold the line for safety until all of our students can be vaccinated. “The governor continues his haphazard and dangerous obsession with the foolish catchphrase of  ‘personal responsibility’ solely for scoring political points,” Capo said in a statement Sunday evening. “The responsibility is on us to act in the public’s best interest to do all we can to keep one another safe. That means respecting the on-the-ground safety decisions of school district officials and the expert health guidance they are trying to follow.” (Read the full statement here.) 

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona weighed in Friday with a letter to the governor and Education Commissioner Mike Morath stating that the governor’s prohibition on mask mandates and TEA’s guidance saying contract tracing is not required both could violate of federal law. Cardona’s letter states that the federal pandemic aid to Texas districts comes with requirements to report how students will safely return to campuses, with a heavy emphasis on following CDC guidelines. (Those guidelines currently call for mask use by all school students, staff, and visitors.)

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