Despite Gov. Greg Abbott issuing a ban on local entities like cities and school districts instituting mask mandates, a growing number of districts around Texas are defying his order and requiring mask mandates for their schools.
The Austin American-Statesman reported Aug. 9 that the Austin Independent School District has issued a mask mandate for all its students. Superintendent Stephanie S. Elizalde said of the measure, after noting it had taken previous steps to try to ensure student safety, “If I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we have been overly cautious. Not that we have fallen short.”
Though the AISD school year doesn’t start until Aug. 17, the mask mandate will go into effect Aug. 11, requiring all individuals to wear masks on school district campuses and property.
The Texas Tribune noted that Austin ISD joined Dallas ISD in requiring face coverings for its schools and that Houston ISD is also considering a similar mask mandates policy. The districts are joining several major Texas counties in defying the governor, despite the executive order he issued “which prevents them from requiring mask-wearing even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to recommend ‘universal indoor masking by all students.’”
Throughout the country, parents have been worried about the explosion in COVID cases, thanks to the delta variant, and how it would affect children returning to in-person learning.
Now, local officials in Dallas County and in Bexar County—which includes San Antonio—are turning to the courts, filing lawsuits in an attempt to issue mask mandates to protect their constituents.
“Ironically, the governor is taking a state law meant to facilitate local action during an emergency and using it to prohibit local response to the emergency that he himself declared,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg in a statement commenting on the court actions.
“The enemy is not each other,” added Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “The enemy is the virus and we must all do all that we can to protect public health. School districts and government closest to the people should make decisions on how best to keep students and others safe.”
The Houston Chronicle reported that an Austin-based educational nonprofit, Southern Center for Child Advocacy, filed a lawsuit in Travis County on Aug. 8 over the executive order as well.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, another prominent county executive advocating for masks, wrote on Twitter, “Some talk about personal responsibility in schools but, as government leaders, we’re responsible for the safety of those we serve. Our responsibility extends beyond the personal. We can’t just tell Texas children they’re on their own. Schools need to require masks.”
As ABC13 noted, “Hidalgo’s use of the phrase ‘personal responsibility’ is likely a nod at Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who lifted the statewide mask mandate back in March.”
Abbott said at the time of that move, “Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility. It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.”