Aug. 16, 2021: Districts defy governor’s mask order; Legislature still in uncertain waters as Capitol floods from downpour

Districts revolt against governor’s order on masks

Red duotone of Gov. Abbott holding both hands straight forward sitting next to Mike MorathLast 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 could violate 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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Texas AFT continues its campaign for local decisions on masks, air quality improvements, and increasing vaccinations

photo text: What if a child dies on my watch? Photo: Someone viewing a computer screen with video testimony from teacher at a school board meeting.
This is an unnerving time in Texas, where COVID-19 cases are up 134% in the past two weeks. Faced with an average of 12,000 new cases on average each day, our governor and state leaders are not responding, and they’re trying to hamstring local efforts to protect our communities.

How you can help keep us all safe? Here are four ways:

1. Record a Video & Share Your Story

Educator and school employee voices MUST be heard in any discussion of school safety. We need to hear from you about why you continue to wear masks, why you decided to get vaccinated, and what you want state leaders to know. Follow this link on your phone or computer to record video responses to these three questions.

Woman union member with colorful patterned mask stares into the sunset with arms akimboWatch our video ad on YouTube. (Español)

2. Send a Letter to the Governor

Whether Gov. Abbott will listen or not, it’s important our elected officials hear from us on this issue and all others. Take 2 minutes to send an e-letter, urging the governor to restore local control to school districts to protect their communities—without fear of retribution.

3. Tweet Your Support

Elected officials and state leaders check Twitter constantly. You can tweet your support for masking and vaccines using this link.

4. Add a Frame to Your Facebook Profile

Visibility is solidarity. Show your commitment to masking on Facebook by adding a frame to your profile photo that says you are committed to masks, are masked and vaccinated, or are ready to fight for a safe back-to-school season.

Stay tuned for more resources to share, including our campaign to encourage vaccinations.

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Legislature still running without one chamber, but Senate passes bills on voter suppression, transgender youth sports, and controversial curriculum

Left photo: Sen. Alvarado speaking at her desk. Right photo: Alvarado's sneaker shoe under her deskSen. Carol Alvarado dons her sneakers for a filibuster. Photo By: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Water rushes down the inside hallway at the Texas Capitol extensionIn the past few days, we’ve seen Democrats return from Washington (while others pledge to remain) and arrest warrants served at all absent legislators’ homes for leaving Texas and breaking quorum—all while a future contentious session on redistricting looms on the horizon. That leaves the second legislative special session still in uncertain waters (especially with flooding in the Capitol Sunday), with only the Senate reaching a quorum to conduct business so far.

Senate Republicans continued the path of destructive legislation by passing the voter suppression bill and the bill they say intends to ban “critical race theory.” SB 1, which would decrease access to voting, passed 18-11 (on party lines, with Democrats opposed) Thursday after a 15-hour filibuster by Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) intended to highlight objections to the bill.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 3 18-11 (on party lines, with Democrats opposed). The bill has been labeled a ban on “critical race theory” by the governor and Republican legislators. Also on Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 2, which discriminates against transgender students by forcing them to use their “biological sex” at birth to determine where to compete.

Alejandro Lopez sitting at Senate desk giving testimony.Watch Alejandra Lopez, San Antonio Alliance president, testify against SB 3 (the “critical race theory” bill) in the Senate State Affairs Committee Tuesday.

Last week the Senate passed SB 15, a bill on virtual education, with amendments that provide educators with some protection from teaching in-person and virtual classes simultaneously and a sunset date of 2023. However, the bill still lacks many other protections for students and teachers, such as class size ratios. The push for more virtual options for students and parents has overwhelmingly been the result of parents’ and teachers’ concern about returning to schools that are not safe in the face of a pandemic that is not going away. “What educators want most is safety and required mask wearing by children, especially those not yet eligible for a vaccine,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo.”

(You can see our past coverage on these bills on our website)

Census data released Thursday signals a legislative fight ahead, as lawmakers will convene in yet another special session to draw maps for congressional and legislative districts. Democrats will be pointing to population gains in urban/suburban areas where they traditionally have done well at the ballot box, while Republicans will be aiming to use their control of the process to gain new elected seats.



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PHoto: Towering Statue of Liberty Text: Together we rise citizenship ClinichTexas AFT unions in the Valley will hold citizenship clinics in August

Our local unions in the Rio Grande Valley will be co-hosting a citizenship clinic in McAllen on August 28. The “Together We Rise” clinic will help guide permanent residents to full citizenship. Applicants must attend an informational forum before the clinic. Find all the details here.

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