Texas schools defy governor’s executive order and will require masks in the Fall
School districts across the country are weighing the measure, with some defying states’ orders against mandating masks.
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As students prepare to head back to school in the Fall, many school districts across the country are beginning to make important decisions around COVID-19 safety protocols as they debate if mandating masks are necessary to continue keeping students, teachers and faculty safe.
In Texas, with COVID-19 cases on the rise with the highly contagious Delta variant, Austin Independent School District (AISD) announced on Aug. 9 that it will require face masks for the upcoming Fall semester.
The requirement defies Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates, which said no government institutions, including schools, could require masks. AISD’s mask mandate, which requires individuals to wear masks on school district campuses and property, goes into effect Aug. 11.
"I am responsible for the safety, health and welfare of each and every one of our students and our staff. If I err, I must err on the side of ensuring that we’ve been overly cautious, not that we have fallen short," AISD Superintendent Stephanie S. Elizalde said in a press release.
AISD also joins Dallas Independent School District, which announced their mask mandate for the upcoming Fall semester earlier in the day on Aug. 9. Since that announcement and Austin’s, Fort Worth Independent School District became another major Texas school district to join the mask mandate.
Although it’s unclear if Abbott will issue consequences for districts deciding to mandate masks, entities that defy Abbott's orders could face fines of $1,000. According to a statement made by Abbott’s office, legal action could also be taken.
"We are all working to protect Texas children and those most vulnerable among us, but violating the Governor’s executive orders — and violating parental rights — is not the way to do it," Press Secretary Renae Eze said in a statement. "Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mask mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility."
However, the debate around mandating masks in school institutions is not exclusive to Texas, as many cities and school districts around the country are limited to abiding by individual state orders and have also been threatened with the loss of school funding.
In Florida, at least two school districts have defied the state’s emergency rule issued Friday by the Florida Department of Health, which mandates that parents be allowed to stop their children from wearing masks in the classroom.
As a result of the district's defiance, Gov. Ron DeSantis, in an executive order issued on July 30, gave the state education commissioner the authorization to deny money to districts that don’t comply with the rules.
Despite the threat of lost funding, Superintendent Rocky Hanna of Leon County continues to cite the need for student safety amid the surge in COVID cases in Florida.
“If something happened and things went sideways for us this week and next week as we started school, and heaven forbid we lost a child to this virus, I can’t just simply blame the governor of the state. I can’t,” Hanna told ABC News.“If there’s an out and I didn’t take the out, and I didn’t do what was best for the children here in Tallahassee and Leon County, that’s on me.”
In Pennsylvania, there is no longer a statewide mask mandate, but the School District of Philadelphia also announced its own mask mandate, stating the prioritization of safely returning to school.
“The Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) has released its newly revised guidance on school reopening which — like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — prioritizes the safe return of all students to in-person learning with multiple safety layers in place,” Superintendent William Hite said.
As more school districts make the return to in person learning, the continuous need for COVID-19 safety protocols remains despite some state’s orders to limit the precautions.
"These protocols are especially important for the protection and health and safety of our youngest and most vulnerable students who cannot be vaccinated at this time," said Austin School Board President Geronimo Rodriguez.