Educators favor local decision-making on mask use by a large majority

Texas AFT calls on the governor to reverse his orders and allow local school districts to set their protocols on mask use. The Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread through Texas and puts students and school staff at risk—including the millions of schoolchildren under age 12 who currently cannot be vaccinated. Gov. Greg Abbott’s May order prohibited government entities, including school districts, from mandating mask use. He again issued a similar order Thursday in conjunction with prohibiting government entities from requiring vaccinations.

A large majority of Texas AFT members surveyed last week—78 percent of 7,384 respondents—said the governor should allow school districts to mandate mask use in schools. The survey took place amid a change in CDC guidelines last week that also recommends masks in schools, including for vaccinated individuals.

Texas AFT member Chrisdya Houston, an Alliance-AFT member and Dallas ISD teacher, has spoken out on the need to take all precautions necessary for a return to school. “The information about this Delta variant is not good at all, and as we know, our elementary-aged students are not vaccinated yet,” Houston said. “Banning local governments from being able to institute a much-needed mask mandate endangers our lives and poses increasing risks to all of those in our community.”

AFT has dedicated $5 million to a “Back to School for All” campaign to help states and local unions educate school employees and families on the need for investments in better ventilation, technology support, vaccination education, and support for the emotional needs of students during the pandemic. This week, Texas AFT will place ads throughout the state urging the use of federal funds for ventilation upgrades in schools, as well as stressing the need for local decisions on mask use.

AFT President Randi Weingarten is traveling throughout the country to participate in door-to-door canvassing, vaccine clinics, town halls, book fairs, and other grassroots efforts. 

“We know students learn best in person from their trusted, highly qualified educators—from teachers and nurses, to guidance counselors, paraprofessionals, and bus drivers—who will use every tool at their disposal to enhance teaching and learning,” Weingarten said. “Schools are critical for our kids’ recovery, and this moment is an opportunity to fund our future fully and equitably.” 

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo stressed that to meet the goal of educators and kids back in school, our local communities need to ensure that the school environment is safe. 

“With our governor refusing to allow local flexibility, we are advocating for all school districts to continue to make safety a priority, including mask use in schools when necessary,” Capo said. “While we celebrate a return to school, let’s not be careless and reckless. We must take the responsibility to make sure that those who can’t be vaccinated and those that are at risk from compromised health aren’t harmed by lax safety protocols.”

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